As December finally comes, the long-silent The Flowers of War finally begins its promotions. The December issue of The Hollywood Reporter features an interview with directorZhang Yimou and actor Christian Bale. See some highlights below, and read the entire story, with an especially important discussion on Chinese – Hollywood crossovers, here.
Zhang talks about what attracted him to this story, and the process of making it.
“The story of the Rape of Nanking has been told before in films, and is a very political and serious subject,” Zhang says, “but what intrigued me about this story was that it’s actually told from the female perspective, so it’s more humane and has a personal touch.”
The movie’s original title was The Heroes of Nanking, but it was changed midstream to emphasize the female aspect of the storyline.
Zhang researched the Rape of Nanking for more than three years, and some of the film’s more graphic scenes were drawn from actual photographs, while the movie itself was based on Geling Yan’s novel The 13 Women of Nanjing.
The story also tells of how the two came to work together – Bale was recommended to Zhang Yimou by former Universal studio chief David Linde and director Steven Spielberg.
“When I was asked to join the project, it struck me that the film represented the shifting dynamic within the world of feature film,” Linde says, “not to mention a chance to work once again with Yimou.”
Bale was in the midst of preparing for the release of The Fighter when he received the script, and was immediately drawn in by the story.
“This was a very poignant and painful moment in Chinese history and I was drawn to the radical difference between the atrocities that happen, versus the incredible humanity that emerges,” Bale says. “Yimou and I had spoken a little about the character, and this was not a guy who was a hero from the get-go, this was a guy who really just wanted to have a good time in China and make a buck.”
In addition to the casting of Bale, Zhang Yimou also talked about the casting of the coutesans and schoolgirls as well as the Imperial soldiers:
From the beginning of his career, Zhang Yimou intentionally used first-time actors who would go on to become famous stars, including Gong Li, who appeared in many of his films. Zhang relied on that same practice when casting the schoolgirls and courtesans in Flowers of War, all of whom are newcomers and from Nanjing, so as to ensure the proper dialect. The ensemble cast includes 13-year-old Zhang Xinyi, who plays the role of Shu and narrates the film.
“When you have first-time actors, a lot of times they give performances that are very real and refreshing,” Zhang Yimou says.
Zhang also wanted to use Japanese actors to play the Imperial soldiers, a touchy proposition, since the Japanese government has never acknowledged that the atrocities took place, only that there were military deaths. “It wasn’t as difficult as I imagined, and I think everybody who worked on this film decided to set history aside and just focus on the story,” Zhang says.