Essay on “The Flowers of War”

“The Flowers of War” is a Chinese movie which revolves around the Second Sino-Japanese War, during which a group of innocent schoolgirls and beautiful prostitutes encountered in the church during the notorious Nanjing Massacre. In general, this is a story about how weaponless Chinese civilians struggled hard to survive in the massacre and supported each other in face of brutal Japanese invaders. During such a process, the schoolgirls and prostitutes gain a better understanding and the thirteen prostitutes even risk their life to help the schoolgirls to gain freedom. While touching on the serious and moving themes, such as self sacrifice, benevolence and persistence, there are multiple factors that contribute to the appeal of the movie.

In this article, I will focus on Qipao which is also known as cheongsam and demonstrates how it contributes to narration and characterization. To begin with, Qipao features strong national flavor and embodies beauty of Chinese traditional costume; therefore, it shall be considered a vibrant part of Chinese culture and Chinese people’s identity. Given such a focus, portraying characters in this type of traditional dress can highlight the theme of patriotism, national identity and resistance against brutal foreign invasions. In the first instance, it is important to note that Qipao is defined as the time-honored, traditional and feminine dress in China.

In this sense, it always shows up in social life as a symbol of cultural or national identity. As mentioned by John M. T. Balmer and Weifeng Chen in their book , “iconic Chinese objects such as the qipao dress and the Mao suit represent Chineseness for both Chinese and western audiences, in terms of national identity, race, gender and politics”. In other words, the appearance of Qipao in the movie “The Flowers of War” is not only for creating distinctive and impressive silhouette of female characters, but also for emphasizing the national identity in the wartime. Further still, it is important to note that female characters in the movie put on the Qipao dress regardless of their social class, educational background, age, or positions. While both school girls and prostitute put on the same dress, Qipao in fact highlight that these people are all Chinese with shared national identity, cultural heritage and also similar fate in front of the brutal suppression and bloodshed.

In addition to the function to emphasis of themes in the cinematic context, Qipao also helps the audience to gain a better understanding about the characters being portrayed, which mainly include the innocent school girls and the flamboyant prostitutes. In general, these two groups of female characters have diversified social background and life experience, resulting in their different dress codes, mindsets and behavioral patterns. On the one hand, the innocent school girls are dressing the loose Qipao in singular and plain color. This fits into their characters and social background. To be more specific, these school girls focus on study and enjoy simple yet peaceful campus life, even though the foreign invaders ruined their life to some extent.

Therefore, the Qipao dress they put on do not lay emphasis upon the attractive silhouette or body movement. In this sense, their dress code and preference reflect their characteristics and social background. On the other hand, the pretty prostitutes make full use of the traditional and feminine dress to highlight eye-catching body movement, silhouette and 1 John M. T. Balmer and Weifeng Chen. Advances in Chinese Brand Management. (New York: Springer, 2016), 88.

Accessories in the movie. To be more specific, these young ladies have to stay extremely feminine and subtly sexy in their daily life and work, so as to attract clients and outperform competitors. For this reason, the way they dress Qipao is uniquely different from the innocent and naive school girls. In simplified terms, the stark contrast between the school girls and prostitutes in putting on Qipao dress not only demonstrate their different roles and characters in then social background, but also illustrate the uniqueness and versatility of Qipao dress in social life.

In the third place, the movie “The Flowers of War” and the Qipao emerged during storytelling also offers a new insight into how Qipao evolved on the Chinese history and how it remains vibrant in the modern society. As mentioned by Yang Tingting, “Before Zhang Yimou’s film, the form-fitting dress was worn by the elegant and sublime Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love”, and in Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution.” It has also made an occasional appearance wrapped on a Western celebrity”; specifically, the reason lies in its ability to create extremely feminine and subtly sexy body movement. Taking a closer look at the Qipao dress, it is found that the dress is basically made by silk, a substance that can be made into smooth fine cloth and sewing thread.

Due to such unique medium, the Qipao dress stand out from other costumes as a highly feminine and sexy in its appearance. In terms of the sewing techniques and decorations, the buttons and other locations are worthy of attention. Specifically, “cheongsam has very unique flower-button ornaments, which cannot be compared by those buttons in other clothes. It is not just a button but an exquisite ornament of the cheongsam itself. The flower buttons were set in the collar, the front part of the 2 Yang Tingting. “The Little Silk Dress That Made China Sexy.” World Crunch, April 17, 2012.

As a result, such ornaments add to the beauty of Qipao. Based on the above analysis about “The Flowers of War” and Qipao, it is obvious that this traditional Chinese costume not only has unique appeal, but also conveys profound social, cultural or historical meanings. First and foremost, Qipao dress becomes a unique symbol for national and cultural identity, particularly in the war-torn China. What is more, the Qipao dress also helps the audience to gain a better understanding about the characters in the movie as the school girls and prostitutes tend to put on distinctively different Qipao. Last but not least, the movie also offers a deeper understanding about the traditional dress in terms of its medium, sewing, and ornament. Simply put, Qipao becomes a great contributor to the appeal of the movie and inspire audiences to explore into the fashion design in China.

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