|Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat,
Gong Li, Jay Chou, Liu Ye, Li Man, Qin Junjie
Director: Zhang Yimou
With the exception of Wong Kar Wai, Zhang Yimou is perhaps the most prolific director to ever hail from the Far East. His impressive résumé is comprised of some of the greatest character studies in the history of film (“Raise the Red Lantern,” “The Story of Qiu Ju”) and his more recent contributions to the wuxia genre (“Hero,” “House of Flying Daggers”) are unparalleled to any other filmmaker in the game. With his latest film, “Curse of the Golden Flower,” the veteran director has seemingly attempted to blend his two favorite genres into one earth-shattering epic, but much like the medicine that plays a prominent part in the development of the story, the combination is toxic.
Taking place during the forefront of the Song Dynasty, “Curse of the Golden Flower” tells the Shakespearean tale of an imperial family caught up in a web of intrigue. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) is slowly poisoning The Empress (Gong Li) for reasons unknown; The Empress is in love with her stepson, the Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye); Wan is in love with the lowly servant (Li Man) in charge of adding the poisonous ingredient to his stepmother’s aforementioned “medicine”; the middle-child, Jai (Jay Chou), has agreed to join the Empress in plotting against his father; and the youngest son (Qin Junjie) seems to be such an ignorant fool that he simply looks the other way.
Amazingly, while the story sounds incredibly complex, not much really happens throughout the course of the film. The Empress is seen sweating, breathing heavily and nearly fainting several times, but does the audience really need to be reminded that she’s being poisoned so often? And while we’re on the subject, why is the Emperor even bothering with such an extensive toxin? If he truly is put off by his Empress’ seduction of his eldest son, then why doesn’t he just execute or banish her? As a matter of fact, much of the reasoning behind any of the characters’ actions seems a bit irrational, and director Yimou could just as easily be lumped into this group for the sudden surge of action sequences that crowd the final act. It’s as if the story didn’t really call for such violence, but Yimou simply couldn’t resist the temptation to include it.
Still, while “Curse of the Golden Flower” may not excel at storytelling, I’ll be damned if Yimou hasn’t made his prettiest film to date. As is to be expected from the director, the film is positively bursting with color, from the shimmering silver and gold-armored soldiers that battle in the palace courtyard, to the blood-splattered chrysanthemum flowers that saturate the ground afterwards. Equally enchanting are the performances by Chow Yun Fat as the heartless Emperor, Gong Li as his vengeful Empress, and Chinese pop star Jay Chou in only his third film to date.
In the end, “Curse of the Golden Flower” doesn’t hold a flame to the high-flying spectacles of either “Hero” or “House of Flying Daggers,” but it is an interesting addition to a career filled with some of the best character-driven tragedies. Whether its incest, deceit, love or death, “Curse of the Golden Flower” has all the markings of classic Shakespearean fare, and enough cleavage to last a lifetime.