Curse of the Golden Flower (滿城盡帶黃金甲) Made in: China Language: Chinese (Mandarin) Director: Zhang Yimou Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Liu Ye, Ni Dahong, Li Man, Qin Junjie Year: 2007
Synopsis: The year is 928 A.D. (according to the titles at the beginning of the film), and the story is set during the opulent Tang Dynasty in China. However, historians believe the Tang Dynasty actually ended in 907 A.D. Oops. But that's the least of the movie's problems.
Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat) returns to the extravagant imperial palace in the Forbidden City for the chrysanthemum blossom celebration. In preparation for the festivities, the Emperor assembles his family. There's the ailing Empress (Gong Li), who was the daughter of a king who ruled a neighboring province, and their three children:
Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye) is the eldest and heir to the thrown, but is the child of Emperor Ping's late first wife.
Then there's Prince Jai (Jay Chou), a talented military leader and warrior who has also returned for the festival. And finally, there's Prince Wu (Qun Junjie), the youngest son eager to prove his worth.
Like most royal families, the house of Emperor Ping is hopelessly screwed up. Relations between the Emperor and Empress are chillier than a Siberian toilet seat, as the Empress suspects that her medicine (which is supposed to be helping her sickness) is being secretly spiked by her husband with poison.
Crown Prince Wan wants to leave the palace so he can be with his secret lover Chan (Man Li), who happens to be one of the Empress's servants. This is very upsetting for the Empress, who over the years, has viewed her stepson as more than just a mama's boy (if you know what I mean).
As the chrysanthemum celebration approaches, the plot becomes a complex mass of shocking secrets, incest, and backstabbing (both figurative and literal). Power-plays and passions finally escalate into a critical mass of sword fighting, kung fu, and long hair. Is Emperor Ping doomed to fall along with his divided house? Or like everyone else, does he also have a few tricks up his golden sleeve?
The Good: Incredibly well photographed and produced, Curse of the Golden Flower is one of those international movies that certainly looks epic. The set design is beautiful, and the opulence of the time period is unquestionably captured.
The action sequences are exciting, and the final battle sequence, which took nearly a month to shoot with the help of hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of extras adds to the overall grandness of the film.
The Bad: All that being said, Curse of the Golden Flower takes a familiar storyline...and doesn't do anything creative with it. When you see all the extravagance and riches surrounding the Emperor and his family, of course you're going to figure that there's something dark brewing underneath the family that "has it all." But there's no twist on the matter...it's just simply there.
Although the sequence of events occur in a logical fashion, the shocking revelations don't turn out to be all that shocking because they're too predictable.
And while hidden underneath layers of golden robes, veils, or armor, the Emperor and Empress are portrayed by director Zhang Yimou as being isolated and terribly lonely, despite the fact that thousands of servants are waiting on them all day long.
Zhang Yimou's portrayal of that isolation is effective, but in doing so he has also emotionally separated the protagonists from the audience. There is no one in the story with whom the viewer can identify with, despite the implication that members of the royal family are human beings who are just as frail as anyone else.
In the end, we're just watching a bunch of awful things happen to a group of characters that we wouldn't want to be (or even care much about). At worst, you'll just tolerate the bombastic dialogue until the movie decides to move on to the next fight scene.
Who would like this movie: Curse of the Golden Flower is a good movie to watch if you're a big fan of Zhang Yimou, since the man definitely knows what he's doing in terms of visual artistry. Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li both do a great job and have the screen presence to carry such a huge film.
But from a story-execution point of view, I'm sorry to say that Curse of the Golden Flower fell victim to the curse of my short attention span. With all the effort and money spent on such a painstakingly and well-made film, it's a shame that the overall story didn't achieve the epic regard of its production value.