Before making The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale went to China to make a film called Heroes of Nanking (or The 13 Women of Nanjing or Nanjing Heroes) with director Zhang Yimou. Or, that was what the film was called until recently. 20 minutes of the movie were shown to buyers today in Toronto, and along with that first revelation of footage comes a new name: The Flowers of War.

The film will be released in China on December 16, and the hope is to release it at more or less the same time in the US and other countries. But distribution has to be set up first.

We’ve known that Liu Heng‘s script is based on a historical novel by Yan Geling, and is about 40% English dialogue and 60% Mandarin. The film is China’s most expensive ever produced, with some big battle sequences as part of the story about the infamous 1937 incident called the Nanjing Massacre, or the Rape of Nanking, in which Japanese soldiers killed hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers, and raped thousands of women after the capture of the city of Nanjing.

The LA Times is enthusiastic about the footage shown today, saying “the film’s battle sequences unfold in a manner both grotesque and beautiful, like a live-action hand-colored postcard of war.”

We’ve previously only known Bale’s character as a priest, but the LAT says he plays “John Haufman, a salty mortician who apparently has come to town to bury the priest of a cathedral in Nanking. The cathedral also has a school for girls, and with war waging all around and the priest dead, John dons the priests’ vestments and works out a temporary reprieve from the rampaging Japanese soldiers.”

Then there is a conflict with prostitutes also seeking refuge, and an element of the Japanese army that tries to recruit the schoolgirls as sexual servants for a military celebration. But it sounds like there is some humor in the film as well, as hinted at by the description of Bale’s character as ‘salty.’ Hoping this one actually secures a distributor for the US so we can see the full spectacle and horror of war on the screen.

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