The Rape of Nanking in December 1937 is re-created once again in Zhang Yimou's epic tale of endurance and self-sacrifice.
The murderous brutality of the Japanese occupiers is set against the refuge of the city's Catholic cathedral, where two different sisterhoods are hiding out – one a class of convent girls, the other a gaggle of local prostitutes. Into their midst stumbles an American, John Miller (Christian Bale), a boozy deadbeat who will reluctantly assume the role of pastor to his unexpected flock.
The broad-brush contrasts (innocence and experience, self-indulgence and responsibility), yearning choral music and the long running-time make it a draggy experience, visual flourishes notwithstanding. And it looks very conventional next to Zhang Yimou's best work.