DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Curse of the Golden Flower

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Curse of the Golden Flower

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) dir. Yhang Yimou
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Ye Liu, Dahong Ni, Junjie Qin


“Curse” is a decent wrap-up to Zhang Yimou’s trilogy of mythical martial arts epics which included “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers”. This time Yimou employs less action and more melodrama, crafting a yellow-paletted Shakespearean-tragic extravaganza. One more of these films is just enough for us and since the 2000 release of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, this subgenre of Chinese action is officially played out.

We’re in 10th century China (the Tang Dynasty), the lands are ruled by a despotic Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat) and his three sons. While Ping is off fighting, his wife, Empress Phoenix (Gong Li) holds down the court spending her days lavishly being waited upon with the highest degree of decadence. When Ping returns to the palace for the annual Chrysanthemum Festival, a Hamlet-worthy inter-family rivalry is sparked which threatens the peace in the land.

The Empress resents the so-called medicine she’s forced to take as commanded by her husband, and when she’s told the medicine has become laced by poison, revenge is plotted. But her husband is not the culprit, his former lover, Jiang Shi (Chen Jin), and mother to his illegitimate child – the crown prince – enters the story as the architect of these diabolic deeds. But when Ping’s second son is discovered to be having an affair with Jiang's daughter, the complex battle lines become crossed. The lovers’ quagmire results in a gigantic war which erupts pitting father against son and wife against husband and much much bloodshed.

It might seem like a complicated plotting, but you don’t really have to follow along too hard to recognize the influences from Shakespearean and Greek theatre, sampling the incestual rivalries of Hamlet, King Lear and Oedipus Rex. Most of everything is on the nose though, and Yimou doesn’t the take to the time to enrich the characters outside of the ornate costumes on their backs. Ping is no King Lear and Phoenix is no Lady Macbeth.

As with "Daggers" and "Hero", most of everything becomes overwhelmed by Yimou’s astounding production design and visual choreography. And indeed, it fits in well and often trumps the grandeur of those two predecessors. In the final act, the plotting is so complex and regurgitated with haste, we’re not really sure who is fighting whom and why. As a result things get very big very fast when armies of thousands appear out of no where ready for battle The choreography and shear epic scope of this scene is as big as anything in the LOTR trilogy. And we can't help not feel it was all just practice for the Yimou's opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.

Three of these films is more than enough for Yimou to prove him as a master of this genre. It’s time for him to move on and show us something we haven’t seen – again. Believe it or not, his next film is a Chinese remake of The Coen Bros’ “Blood Simple” – this will be something not to miss.

“The Curse of the Golden Flower” is available in a new Blu-Ray box set from Sony Picture Home Entertainment including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers”


matt said...

Just a note- the director's name is "Zhang Yimou"

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks Matt. I've made the corrections...