Sunday, November 2, 2008

Curse of the Golden Flower

This could have been Zhang Yimou's finest film ever had it not been because of a minor flaw in the script. On a bright side, Curse of the Golden Flower is Zhang's visually most beautiful movie. After having tried to at least smartly entertain us with House of Flying Daggers, director Zhang Yimou (Hero) stays loyal to his newly built reputation and his first days as a director of the "Sixth Generation": giving us in a balanced way entertainment and sophistication.

Based on Cao Yu's (1910-1996) play Thunderstorm, the story takes place during the Tang Dynasty. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, the emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) and his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou), unexpectedly returns to the palace. The emperor wants to celebrate the holiday with his family. However, given the cold relation between the empress (Gong Li) and the emperor, the former secretly plans something to humiliate the latter and also to contribute to his downfall...

Unlike some of his movies from the 1990s, Zhang manages to set the tone right from the beginning with this story that takes place during the Tang Dynasty, a period of "glamour" and artistic ostentation. Thus, the movie follows the premise that behind gold and jade, there are rot and decay just to paraphrase an old Chinese proverb. Therefore, the movie actually evolves in a way that the main characters' secret are shown in order to illustrate the polarization that prevails within the Forbidden City.

However, the only thing that can be reproached to Curse of the Golden Flower is a mere plot hole. In fact, although the plot about the Emperor's first wife is used by the Empress as a tool of humiliation, we just never to thoroughly understand the back story between the Emperor and his first wife. Although the Empress has her own reason to want to prove that the Emperor has always been a bad husband and a liar, we just never understand what caused the "divorce" between the Emperor and his first wife. All in all, even though the movie wonderfully illustrates how divided (and dysfunctional) the Imperial family is, we get the feeling that some details are missing.

Hopefully, the performance by the cast is top notch. While Chow Yun-Fat (The Killer) is authoritative on screen, Gong Li (Farewell my Concubine) plays with a lot of nuances a manipulative woman who lives without regretting what she does. Moreover, add to that the breathtaking cinematography by Zhao Xiaoding (House of Flying Daggers) that reminds us Christopher Doyle's (Hero) style. As strange as it might look, the cinematography slightly masked the bitter taste left by the movie's plot hole.

Finally, Curse of the Golden Flower could have been Zhang Yimou's finest movie. However, anyone who appreciated Zhang Yimou's movies from the 1990s movies shouldn't be too disappointed. As for those who are looking for a martial arts flick, this movie is not recommended for you for there are not a lot of action scenes.

Rating: 4/5

Curse of the Golden Flower
China/Hong Kong (2006)
Length: 114 minutes
Genre: Historical drama
Screenplay: Zhang Yimou, Wu Nan and Bian Zhihong
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Liu Ye, Ni Dahong, Qin Junjie, Li Man and Chen Jin

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