Saturday, December 4, 2010

Curse of the Golden Flower

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

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