Monday, December 13, 2010
Enter the Three Dragons
As a fan of Hong Kong action cinema it’s really hard not to hold Dragons Forever on a pedestal as one of the best films to ever come out of the industry. It’s a perfect example of what makes the industry so fantastic. A perfect blend of breathtaking action, and broad humour, and is a great watch for anyone who might be interested in diving into the fascination word of Hong Kong films.
Dragons Forever was originally released in Hong Kong on January 10, 1988, just in time to be a Chinese New Year hit! Unfortunately it didn’t perform as well as the distribution studio Golden Harvest hoped for. It made a respectable HK$33.5 million. But considering it was a Chinese New Year release, and the star power behind it, the studio expected more. None the less none of this really matters now because in the past two plus decades, it has become one of the most beloved Hong Kong action films of the 1980’s, and to most fans the favourite of the Three Brothers films. It was actually the 5th, and sadly the final of these unforgettable collaborations, which included; Project A, My Lucky Stars, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars, and Wheels on Meals.
Chan plays against his type quite a bit in the film. At the time he was known very well to Hong Kong audiences for playing a cop in most of his contemporary roles, the Police Story films play a great role in this, as well as the Lucky Stars films he appears in. Now he turns up as a wealthy playboy defence attorney who is hired by a chemical company that is being sued by a local fishery for allegedly polluting their water. His job is to find evidence that can clear the company, and discredit them from the charges. He hires a friend, who happens to be an arms dealer, played by Sammo Hung to get close to the owner of the fishery played by Deannie Yip. This is the first of a few times in the film we must suspend our disbelief and not ask why such a bright lawyer would hire someone like Sammo to woo a pretty lady, as charming as he is, he isn’t exactly a calendar boy. In a turn you would expect in a romantic comedy, Sammo actually starts falling for his target and lets personal feelings get in the way of his job. Sammo’s character like Jackie’s is also very much against his character type, but he makes it work.
He also turns to another of his bizarre friends, a slightly insane inventor played, again against his type, by Yuen Biao, who he hires to bug Deannie Yips apartment. Unfortunately Sammo and Yuen Biao are both unaware of the other’s involvement and eventually run into one other and do not seem to get along. So now Jackie must try to keep the peace, while also keeping up his relationship with his girlfriend. All this will eventually lead to one of the most memorable, though brief, moments in Hong Kong movie history, the ultimate showdown, Jackie vs. Sammo vs. Yuen Biao. This brief fight may appear as a frustrating sample of what could have been a long epic battle of the ages, but in context of the film works perfectly well how it is.
Not Just the Other Two
Dragons Forever has been primarily marketed around the world as a Jackie Chan film, also starring Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. It makes business sense if they want to sell it to a mass market of casual fans that would see and recognise Chans persona. However Sammo and Yuen Biao bring just as much to the film, and without them it wouldn’t be the classic it is today. Sammo of course also directs, and by doing so brings out the absolute very best in his fellow brothers, and himself. He also provides a great deal of the comedic moments. Yuen Biao is well known for his unique acrobatic abilities, and he doesn’t hold back one bit. There is an especially memorable series of stunts in the ending showdown that would leave anyone’s jaw on the floor; he also provides a great deal of the comedy as well, most notably while sharing the screen with Sammo. What’s interesting is that Jackie Chan is so well known for his comedy, yet in the end he ends up playing the straightest character between them. Though there is one scene that involves Jackie trying to entertain his girlfriend, while at the same time keeping his feuding friends hidden that lets his comedic talents shine.
A Cast for the Ages
In case you are unfamiliar, the term Three Brothers refers to the teaming of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao working on screen together. They get this name because from a young age the three of them were raised together in the Yu Jim Yuen’s China Drama Academy in Hong Kong, and were members of an elite group of seven students called the Seven Little Fortunes, who would tour and perform together as a showcase for the school. The three of them formed a bond early in life and have carried a close relationship, both as friends, and colleagues ever since. Of course, with all the talent involved with Dragons Forever you could almost call it a “Five Brothers” film because two more of Yu Jim Yuen’s students are involved, including the brilliant on screen villain Boss Wah played by fellow student Yuen Wah, and some direction credit goes to another childhood friend Cory Yuen Kwai. Both of which were also “Little Fortunes”.
The cast of Dragons Forever is one of the most memorable aspects of the film, aside from our powerhouse trio; it’s a who’s who of familiar faces across the board, and unlike our stars most of the cast seem to be playing within their element. Deannie Yip of course plays Sammos ‘Romantic interest’, Crystal Kwok shows up briefly as Jackie’s assistant. The film opens with a quick cameo from the great James Tien. The various thugs and baddies we meet throughout the film is packed with familiar faces, including Phillip Ko, Chin Kar-lok, Chung fat, Tai Po, Bolly Chow, and of course you cannot have a cast of baddies without including the mighty Dick Wei. Finally we get a nice appearance from Roy Chiao playing a judge. Anyone less familiar with Hong Kong Cinema may remember him from his appearances in Bloodsport, and The Temple of Doom.
Jackie and the Jet!
Benny “The Jet” Urquidez makes his second and final appearance against Jackie in the film’s closing moments, and gives us one of the greatest fights ever filmed. He is the ultimate heavy that portrays an on screen presence that cannot be topped. A Kickboxer by trade, and also martial arts teacher, and occasional actor, he had an astonishing career. In the span of which he posted an unbelievable 63-0 record in title fights and a career record of 200-0.
Their fight begins with a promise from Boss Wah that if he can defeat Jackie, he gets half his factory, and for the first minute or so the suspense builds and builds as our two warriors slowly circle one another while they remove their jackets, then loosen their ties, not once unlocking eyes. Then wham! Benny unloads with a mighty kick and the fight lets lose, while a cigar chugging squirrely Yuen Wah watches, and occasionally attempts to participate. The speed and intensity of the fight is brilliant, they are a perfect match for each other. It’s a classic Hero vs. Villain showdown as Jackies face keeps a steady look of concentration and occasional winces of pain, while Benny just smiles and turns his head ever so slight as to say “that all you got?” Eventually the dress shirt comes off, and our hero now means business. We do get a quick break from the fight to watch Sammo tie up a loose end that still hanging around, but when we resume our hero has now turned it up to 11, and makes quick work of the might tyrant he has managed to wear down.
A Personal Perspective
Dragons Forever holds a special place in my heart, it was one of the first 1980’s Hong Kong action films I watched, and it gave me a glimpse into to the world of Jackie Chan outside of the domestic box office. Furthermore it introduced me to a couple of people who would become major players in my movie watching world. Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung. I was originally lent a VHS copy of both Dragons Forever, and Jackie’s off the wall comedic manga adaptation City Hunter. Before this I had pretty much no awareness of the world of Hong Kong Cinema. I knew of Jackie Chan of course, from seeing his domestically released films like Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop, Mr Nice Guy and so on. However watching them at whatever time I did, never seemed to have any lasting effect on me. Jackie was fun to watch, and they were fun movies but that was it.
I enjoyed City Hunter quite a bit, but it would be the second of the back to back viewings that would have a substantial impact on me. From the get go Dragons Forever was an instant favourite for me, it hit me like a swift slap in the face that something was right about what I was watching. I had never seen action like this before in my life, it was just a brilliant movie that left me in awe! I remember seeing Sammo’s introduction as he is trying to sell some guns to a couple goons. As funny as the scene begins, I was downright floored when Sammo suddenly breaks out and in a flash show us that for a big man, he can MOVE! Then near the end of the film a towering figure suddenly appears and makes his disturbingly dominating presence known. The ultimate on screen heavy, Benny “The Jet” Uquidez! And his final throw down with Jackie still brings chills!
That was it; Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao were now my focus. It started out with me hunting down as many of their films as I could from every video store I could find. To my pleasant surprise there were quite a bit of Jackie’s movies to be discovered, some of which would feature Sammo and Yuen Biao! Eventually I would discover that my girlfriend at the time, and now wife, who was going to school in Toronto, happened to be going to school right beside China Town! So for about 4 years I made at least a weekly visit to the few legit DVD stores that I could find, made myself well known by the shop owners, and eventually got my hands on all Jackie’s action films from the 80’s, 90’s, and a few early films. As well as dozens of Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao films. Not to mention my eyes were opened to so much more outside their catalogues that I would grow to love over the years. Suddenly it was Hong Kong Cinema in general that would be my new passion. Nowadays I have found another love in modern Korean Cinema, and Asian Cinema as a whole, something that I am still discovering every day. However I still love the wonderful glory days of Hong Kong action cinema which is the 1980’s, and there is still so much to explore, so much I have not seen from this decade. Not to mention the countless films from the 90’s, 00’s, and today that I am yet to watch. And I can’t forget the Shaw Brothers catalogue that I am only vaguely familiar with. It’s quite overwhelming to be honest, but I have a lifetime to discover. And to think, this entire part of my movie watching life that I have grown to adore might not have ever happened if I didn’t borrow and watch an old VHS copy of Dragons Forever.
I would like to thank Bey Logan, Mike Leeder, John Kreng, Ric Meyers and Ross Chen who were gracious enough to take the time to send me a few words on what they think of this action classic. I would especially like to thank thank Cynthia Rothrock for taking the time to share some of her thoughts on working with Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung. Enjoy!
"Dragons Forever stands as the last great hurrah for the titanic trio of Jackie, Sammo and Yuen Biao. Everyone wishes the three of them would do a new action comedy every year. The fact that they never have makes Dragons Forever seem all the more wonderful as the years pass."
– Bey Logan (HKC expect, screenwriter, producer, author, martial artist)
” Dragons Forever may have been the last of the '3 Brothers' movies, but it’s still my favourite, fantastic action from all involved, some great comedy and the original English dub works so well....”
– Mike Leeder (HK Film Producer, actor, author)
I felt Dragons Forever was a great showcase for the "Three Brothers" that was their final appearance on screen where they all were able to strut their stuff on screen. The on screen chemistry between the three of them was great. I also feel Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah stood out and almost stole the show. The fight with Jackie and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez was a different fight than what we saw with them on "Meals on Wheels"... it was shorter and had a rough brawl feel to it while the pacing was much faster, that it that made you hold your breath throughout the fight. Although that fight was not as well applauded as the one in Wheels...” I feel the fight is still a great one!
-John Kreng (Comedian, Stuntman, Actor, Producer, Author)
“When I first saw it in Chinatown when it premiered, I was intrigued by Sammo's decision to have each star play anti-heroes, and enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly.
As time went on, and I learned more about the situation, I had to accept the little things that bothered me: the long stretches of middling romance and comedy, as well as the oh-so-very-slight disappointment that the Jackie vs. Benny the Jet rematch wasn't as good as I had hoped (and that the doubling of Jackie was so obvious in the final kick).
But now I had immortalized the film in my memory with great fondness for what was first and foremost: the kung fu and the kung fu actors who realized it: the amazing performance of villain Yuen Wah, Kao Fei, Billy Chow (oh, that final fall), Lau Kar-wing, Chung Fat, Fung Hak-on, Rocky Lai (oh, THAT final fall), Chin Kar-lok (who probably did Jackie's last kick), and all the rest.
And, of course, the three brothers themselves, Jackie, Sammo and Yuen. As such, DRAGONS FOREVER remains the "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" of kung fu films.”
-Ric Meyers (Martial Arts Film Expert, Author)
"DRAGONS FOREVER is proof that Yuen Biao is both underrated and awesome. Jackie Chan? He ain't bad either."
-Ross Chen (www.lovehkfilm.com)
“Working with Sammo and Yuen Biao was one of the greatest experiences in my Martial Art Career. I learned so much from these brilliant martial artists. Fighing with Yuen Biao has been my best fight scenes to date. Our timing on the fights was very similiar which made it fun and exciting. Sammo and Cory Yuen were the best action directors I ever worked with. Growing up Jackie Chan was my idol. I use to see his movies and go home and practice what I saw him doing. Unfortunately I never got to work with him on a film but to do so would be a dream come true. All three are are my hero's in martial art films.”
-Cynthia Rothrock (Actress, Martial Artist)
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Many people like to call Death Bell a combination of Saw, and Battle Royale. Personally I find that label to be a bit of a stretch. The premise is fairly straight forward; a group of 20 top ranked high school kids are formed into a study group to prepare for the coming college entrance exams. Upon the first day of their study sessions terror strikes as one of the students go missing and end up being broadcasted on the school monitors in a tank filling with water, with an equation written on the outside of the tank. Suddenly a voice comes over the PA system demanding that if they do not solve the posted equation the student will die. This continues as the students start disappearing one by one, and in a particular order.
It’s at this point you can begin to see the similarities to Saw, and why people would relate the two films. However beyond that there really isn’t much to compare. In fact with Death Bell it seems everyone is more concerned with panicking, and blaming each other, and that actually solving the equations and saving their friends isn’t as much of a priority. Then as they keep letting the students die, the panic only increases, which soon becomes a vicious cycle. I hope for the sake of the film makers credit that this was intended to be implied, otherwise it would be a pretty dramatic hit to the story’s merit.
As for Battle Royale, there is really not much to compare to it. Yes it revolves around a group of students dying, but they are not killing each other, they are not wearing explosive collars, and they are not on an island. However they are confined to one place, the school. As all outside connections including internet and cell phones are cut off. The terrorizing voice also warns them that they must not try to escape the school, which is quickly proven to not be a bluff as an attempted escape artist ends up a bloody mess. Where the film sometimes falls short, is when it tries to explain certain things enough to prevent obvious plot holes, and the viewer to ask “why not do this” or “couldn’t they just do that”. For example of one the students is ordered to collect the cell phones from other students before study sessions begin, then of course he gets captured along with all the phones, which suggests this is to keep the phones out of reach. However the teachers still have their phones, which mysteriously don’t work. Perhaps the killer has found a way to block cell phone reception, if so then why go through the trouble of capturing the student’s phones?
For the most part the story being told is pretty interesting, and the length and pace of the film, which clocks in at about 90 minutes, was just enough to keep hold of my attention till the end, which had a fairly rewarding twist that looking back should have been more obvious, and to some may be. But it sure got me. Death Bell is a good watch for fans of the Asian horror genre, and for those who have grown tired of these films, it may end up being a pleasant surprise as it tends to lean far more to the side of suspense then to the typical horror fare we have seen so many times before.
A Film by Yoon Hong-Seung
A young woman trying to leave her life of crime is being hunted by the very gang she is trying to escape. While on the run she gets into the cab of un-expecting driver Chien Chin (Charlie Chin). To his horror while in the cab she suddenly dies. Now Chin has become the gang’s target, they believe that he has the woman’s purse (it’s an important purse). Chin gets the aid of the dead woman’s sister, who happens to be a policewoman. So together they try to figure out the secret behind this missing purse, and find it, before the gang finds them.
This is not such a bad film, but it’s far from great. The biggest problem isn’t the film itself, but it’s of course Jackie Chan being credited as the star, which speaks for most of his early films which he played a supporting role in. Also there is no decent version that I know of, only cheaply produced and horribly dubbed bargain bin DVDs and VHS'. Now, if we look past all that, this is not a really bad film. It has a story which is nothing we have not seen before, and I for one really like Charlie Chin, and thought he did a great job. In fact he is the biggest reason I enjoyed the film as much as I did.
The action is weak, and the music is kind of cheesy to say the least, but I enjoyed it for what it was. I believe there will never be a properly re-mastered version with original language tracks. So this is what we get.
As for Jackie Chan, this is very early on in his career. In fact I think this may be one of the first times you see his face this clearly on screen. At this point he was not an international superstar by any means. Everyone had to start somewhere, and to be honest you will not find many good Jackie Chan films that pre-dates his career launching "Snake in the Eagles Shadow". As for the infamous mole on his face, Bey Logan once said that in HK films they use stick on facial features like moustaches to help distinguish apart the on screen actors so people can easily tell them apart if they look similar. Could this be why??
It really bugs me when western companies take early films with famous people in small roles, and mis-lead people to make some bucks. However, on the other hand if Jackie was not in this film, it probably would never have seen the light of day outside its domestic market. So for that, I guess I can be thankful...
A Film by Hdeng Tsu
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Tun and his girlfriend Jane are driving late at night down a dark country road. Suddenly an unexpected figure walks into the path of the car, and unable to avoid in time they hit the unfortunate pedestrian.
In a panic they flee the scene and head back to their lives in Bangkok. Soon after their return home Tun, who is a freelance photographer, begins seeing strange figures appearing in his photos, and Jane begins having restless sleeps and recurring nightmares. Deciding to return to the scene of the accident they are shocked to discover that there has been no account of a hit and run, or any records of a victim at any hospitals. But things only get stranger from then on when Tun realizes that they have not been chosen by this ghost at random, but that he has a very close connection to this vengeful spirit, and some of the mistakes he made in the past are literally coming back to haunt him!
On the surface Shutter might come off as yet another one of the many Asian Ghost stories dealing with the usual pale ghostly woman with long black hair, showing up for a quick scare and quickly vanishing as the poor protagonist takes a second look. It may come off as another one of these films because, well, it is.
However Shutter has a lot going for it that puts it a step or two above this rapidly crowding genre. The story, though not entirely original, is told with great pacing, and the film itself offers some great visuals. The hit and run scene in particular is done with some very sharp editing, and there are a couple very nicely put together flashback scenes with a very effective use of music.
The ghost photos, which are the films main gimmick, are also its greatest asset. Though I am sure watching a little girl crawl through your television set, hearing your death on a cell phone message, or watching an angry mother crawl down the stairs with a broken neck could be a scary situation to be in. But can you honestly say that taking a Polaroid of your living room only to find a ghostly image standing in front of you when the picture develops seconds later would not be far worse?
In one memorable and chilling scene, Tan and Jane travel to a supernatural tabloid magazine to try and get some information on the Ghostly images. For this scene the films directors actually sought out and used real pictures found in archives, and submitted by friends and family. In this particular scene the owner of the magazine, which for the most part creates its own fake ghost pictures, is showing them real pictures he has collected over the years, including Polaroids which he points out are impossible to forge. This information will prove very important for the film’s final scenes.
Is Shutter scary? That all depends, as good as the film is, the scares have been done, a lot! There are some chilling moments, all of which involve the photos. If you have seen enough Asian horror films then unfortunately this will probably not scare you, but it is very much worth a watch . Also keep it in mind for that one scene mentioned above, because a lot of the photos you see in that particular scene may very well be real photos of who knows what.
A Film by Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom.
A young Toshire Mifune plays Murakami, a rookie police detective who finds his life in chaos after his gun is pick-pocketed from him on a crowded bus during a scorching heat wave in a 1940’s Tokyo summer. Not willing to let this incident get the better of him, and possibly his job. Murakami sets out to track down and retrieve his stolen pistol. He is paired up with a laid back veteran officer, Sato, played wonderfully by Takeshi Shimura (Stray Dog is one of many wonderful collaborations between Kurosawa, Mifune, and/or Shimura), together they set out on a determined hunt to find his gun, a hunt that puts Murakami into the dark Tokyo criminal underworld. The film develops a great “Buddy Cop” feel to it with Takashi Shimura’s performance as Mifunes superior.
Suddenly Murakami’s situation goes from bad, to worse when forensics discover that Murakamis gun, wherever it may be, has been used, First in a robbery, and followed shortly by a murder. Now Murakami must carry the guilt that his silly mistake of losing his gun, has turned into something much more. The feeling of responsibility slowly eats away at him, and his frantic search for the gun, and the person who has it in their possession, becomes all the more urgent!
Stray Dog works well to grab your attention right from the start with its eerie close up of a panting dog, set behind the opening credits (which I might add became a major controversy with animal rights groups who believed that the dog was purposely injected with rabies). The film then gets straight to the point, immediately showing Murakami explaining to his superiors that his gun had been stolen, followed suit by flash back of the early events. Starting with his time at a shooting range (which becomes very important later), next we see where it all began with Murakami’s ride on the bus, which Kurosawa sets up so well. It’s amazing how a director can take something as simple as a bus ride, and make it so spectacular. The mood is set so well, the sense of a hot congested bus, followed by a fleeting foot chase. There is so much going on in such little time. By the time the foot chase ends, you feel like you need to take a breath and wipe the sweat away yourself!
There are so many great moments to follow throughout the film. One brilliant scene has Murakami following one of the suspected pickpockets while she walks through the streets of a post war Japan. She knows he is there, he knows she knows, but the following stays casual. She tries to lose him by cutting through building, but he is right there behind her. Also the films climax at the end, which I will reserve for you to see, it’s just incredible!
Toshire Mifune plays his character so well. You really see the growing desperation and anxiety that builds up in him, especially as he begins to uncover the tragic events that his stolen pistol has participated in. His guilt is fuelled even more when he later discovers that while he detained a girl who dealt out his stolen gun (guns were rented out for a period of time in exchange for a ration cards), they walked right past the man who was coming to return Murakami’s gun!
Most people when they think of Akira Kurosawa, think of sweeping Samurai epics. However Stray Dog shows a different side of Kurosawa, as well as his obvious western influences. It was also Kurosawa’s first true classic, and still to date one of his finest works!
A Film By Akira Kurosawa
Saturday, December 4, 2010
A mysterious gang connected to an ancient cult called The Gemini Clan has stolen a precious bead while on rout from Tibet to Hong Kong for an exhibition. The Beads guardians Lucky (Sammo Hung), and his son Hey (Wu Jing) must try to acquire the aid of the Clan Principal (Yuen Wah), but he refuses to help them. However when Lucky is seriously injured during an attack by the same gang, Principal decides to call on the help of two of the clans former members . . . The Twins
Do you miss the Hong Kong action films of the 80's and 90's, the no holds barred, fist to face hardcore martial arts action. Do you hate the recent trend of computer generated fluff that has been coming out of Hong Kong as of late, with mostly wires, and GCI taking place of watching real fighters and stuntmen do what they do best. Did you love Sha Po Lang for bringing back the Hong Kong action that we have missed for so many years? Well if you answered yes to any of the above questions, then Twins Mission is . . . not a film for you.
However, there is one more question that must be asked. Can you honestly say that you do not like The Twins and their off the wall wire fu popcorn action? Twins Effect was an alright Vampire Flick, and Twins Effect 2 was, well who knows what that was really, but it was kind of fun. Then there was the better, not so “Twins Film” House of Fury. Now we have the official third Twins film, conveniently titled Twins Mission. It is no SPL I can tell you that, but despite its many flaws, and horribly dated looking CGI. It passes as a watchable romp.
If you are a fan of the classic Hong Kong action flicks, then you will be glad to know that unlike Jackie Chan’s appearances in the first two Twins films, this time we have two of the legendary action stars of the good old days who stick around for the majority of the film. Those of course are Yuen Wah, and Big Brother himself Sammo Hung. I cannot stress enough how important they are to making this film as tolerable as it is. That said, I must now burst the bubble by saying that both men are not at all used to their potential. Sure they may be a bit older, and Yuen Wah may not be a limber as he once was, but all you have to do is watch SPL and see that Sammo can still do it, at least more than he does in this film. And Yuen Wah, I was so excited to see him fight again, and he does. But it’s mostly close ups and some obvious doubles.
The story in Twins Mission is pretty straight forward, but the boundaries of reality seem very disjointed. For the most part is somewhat believable, then suddenly Wu Jing is making pills float in the air. Then we return to reality, and suddenly the twins are fighting half a dozen poisonous snakes . . . with their mouth?
It may not have lived up to the hype which it gathered quite a bit leading up to its release. However it’s still passable as a mindless good time, which is about all you can ask for from a Twins film...
A film by Kong Tao Hoi
Curse of the Golden Flower was Zhang Yimous third attempt at a martial arts epic. After his enormous international success with 2002's Hero, and his almost superior (most would disagree with that, but I liked it a lot) follow up House of Flying Daggers (2004), did he pull it off again? Kinda. If you compare this film to Yimous earlier works such as The Road Home, or Happy Times, then yes, this is indeed an epic martial arts film. However, Curse does not feel that much like it should be in the genre of “Martial Arts”. Yes, there is fighting and swordplay, so that would technically put it into that category. That said, would you consider Charles Angels a martial arts film because they fight? I certainly hope not (if you do you need to seriously re-evaluate your opinions on films). Either way, Martial Arts film or not, Curse of the Golden Flower is a masterpiece.
I must first give deserving praise to the films visuals. Right off the get go, and until the credits role every frame of the film could be hung up in a gallery. The sets, the costumes, even the actors and actress are dolled up so much you would think you were watching a beautiful oil painting come to life. It’s simply stunning. However I assure you that this film is far more than a pretty face. It may have a simple story, and take place entirely in the palace (and a bit outside), but it still works. This is what sets Curse apart the most from Yimous previous epics. It’s simple story which focuses on what can be best described as a dysfunctional royal family. Who on the outside looks picture perfect, but on the inside harvests so much anger, jealousy, and dark secrets, that it was only a matter of time before it all became too much.
The cast is another one of the films many strong points. Chow Yun-Fat is at his absolute best as the dark Emperor Ping. I can assure you, you have never seen this kind of performance from him. Especially when you see him get angry, but I will not spoil! Gong Li is also excellent as Pings very unhappy second wife (his first died when the crown prince was very young). When alone she shows such deep despair in her eyes, which are only highlighted by her golden makeup. However when she emerges from her quarters as the almighty Empress, all that sorrow is well hidden. Another notable cast member is Jay Chou, as the middle Prince Jie. He was able to pull off the role quite well.
As I noted above, there is very little action throughout the course of the film, however there is some. In fact, the closer the film comes to the end, the more action there is. And what little action there is, it’s stunning! The end climactic battle between an army of soldiers in golden armour, and an army in silver is so very well done. The best part about it is that there are tens of thousands of soldiers fighting, but it’s not on an open battlefield. It’s in the courtyard of the palace. So it goes without saying that there is not much room for them to move around. When we are treated to the odd overheard shot, it looks like a giant blob of gold moving in on a giant blob of silver! Then when the two sides connect, silver and gold suddenly turn red! Yes, there is blood in Curse of the Golden Flower, there is lots of blood.
To many this may come off as Yimous weakest attempt at martial arts epics. However the film is so good! It might help to go into the film with expectations of seeing a small story about family drama, and you just might be treated to a wonderful action sequence here and there.
A Film by Zhang Yimou