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Curse of the Golden Flower [Blu-ray]  [US Import] 
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Chinese director Zhang Yimou ends his bid to outfly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with Curse Of The Golden Flower, the third in his Wuxia (the Chinese style of flying and fighting) films. Much like Hero and House Of Flying Daggers, it is drenched in colours so dazzling, and boasts action scenes so exhilarating, that you can almost forgive any shortcomings in the story. Almost. Despite its grandeur, this film is in many ways the least rewarding of the three.
Set in Chinas tenth century Tang dynasty, the story sees Chow Yun Fats emperor trying to poison his wife, a trussed-up and progressively unstable Gong Li, who is having an affair with her step-son Wan, and trying to manoeuvre her other son Jai against his tyrannical father. Lets just say that it gets more complicated from there on in, and involves lots of running through endless corridors, but really, its best to just sit back and let that intense visual style work its magic.
Swapping action for dramatic intrigue might have been Yimous mistake, but theres no mistaking his knack for breath-taking cinematography. Even if purely on a visual scale, Golden Flower still manages to captivate, and the final battle scene is at least worth the slightly overlong wait. Die hard fans of these films might feel a bit stiffed, but everyone else wont be short of eye candy. --Luke Mawson --This text refers to the DVD edition.
In 2004, Zhang Yimou caused a sensation with his astonishing House of Flying Daggers, and his Curse of the Golden Flower is yet another dazzling, visually stunning film. Calling again upon the talents of the striking Gong Li, Yimou tells an epic tale of lust and power set in the opulent world of the Later Tang dynasty. The plot follows the story of the Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) and his Empress (Li) and the tragic disintegration of their royal family--whose problems go far beyond the merely dysfunctional. For starters, the ailing Empress has long been having an affair with her stepson, the Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye). Unbeknownst to her, Wan has been dallying with the Imperial Doctor's daughter (Li Man), and has plans to escape the palace with her. Meanwhile, the Emperor himself has just returned from a long trip, and while relations with his wife are obviously icy, it becomes clear that his plans for her are far more ominous than she could ever imagine. Everyone involved has a secret plan for either escape or domination, resulting in an explosive ending wherein the darkest family secrets are revealed and horrifically bloody battles are waged both inside and outside the walls of the sparkling, gold-encrusted palace. Yimou appears to be trying to balance his flair for telling an emotional story with his talent for thrilling, detail-driven action sequences, and while Curse's plot does at times seem close to that of a soap opera, the phenomenal performances and breathtaking visuals are more than enough to power the film forward. Fans of Yimou's quieter work (Riding Along For Thousands of Miles) are likely to enjoy the dramatic exploration of family relationships, while there are still plenty of hissing ninjas to satisfy Daggers enthusiasts. --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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Top customer reviews
With 'pomp and ceromony' backed up with an 'extravagant
set' and 'lavish costumes'
In my opinion this fabulous spectacle eclipses many of its previous contempories.
The use of coulours,the musical chants, brilliant.
And do you know what, the story line is probably one of the strongest seen yet for this style of cinema magic, the
fight scenes are also so impressive.
All of which, without spoiling the plot, is why i have awarded the film '5 stars'
(If you love Martial-Art spectacles, this could be for you.
As usual with Yimou, the moral of the tale is ambiguous: on one level it could be don't go against the natural order, no matter how unfair it seems (father knows best, even if he is poisoning mum), on another it could be know your place no matter how inexplicably cruel you may find the ruling regime. Or it could just be a good old-fashioned tragedy with unhappy endings all round. On a more dramatically successful film maybe the ambiguity wouldn't be so niggling, but with such huge resources thrown at it to such little effect, you feel that it should all add up to SOMETHING.
True, a lot of money has been visibly lavished on the film, but it rarely feels wisely spent. That the corridors of the palace look like they've been designed by a Bombay stallholder with unlimited funds, more garish than opulent, make many of the interiors look more a monument to bad taste than a glittering façade to hide the corruption within. The wonderfully conceived use of colour and design of Hero and House of Flying Daggers here gives way to visual overkill. Forget the golden flower, this definitely suffers from the curse of too much CGi in the final battle as the addition of an increasingly unfeasible number of perfectly synchronized digital extras completely swamp the human element the scene needs to succeed. When the CGi golden army attacks the palace it doesn't really impress as much as it should - the CGi is good enough, but it's also too controlled and uniform, lacking the feeling of spontaneity you get with real extras. Maybe it's just that the look is so overexposed that digital extras seem too much of a cheat to impress the way that going to all the trouble of using the real thing did. After all, when so much is done in the computer, what physical human effort is left to admire?
Nor does the individual fight choreography impress as much as in Yimou's previous films. There is even some surprisingly clumsy editing of mismatched shots in the `smaller' scenes that make you wonder whether Yimou wants to draw attention to them or simply doesn't care enough to finesse them. Perhaps it's telling that the film's most visually effective moment is the massive co-ordinated cleanup operation after the battle as the bodies are dragged away and the palace is quickly restored to normality and that only the film's final scene has the kind of real emotional power that the rest of the film could have done with.
It seems oddly significant that despite the epic scale, only 8 of the cast are credited while the crew, designers, costumers and computer technicians are billed at great length: people really don't seem to be the film's priority. That's sadly reflected in some of the performances. Perhaps it's because the once prolific Chow Yun Fat has worked so little this century that it's genuinely surprising to see how much he's visibly aged as the Emperor. While this is used to some effect, we rarely see why he does what he does, which tends to render him more of a shallow villain when the circumstances really merit. It's certainly hard to see him as the wronged party when his revenge is so ruthless and calculated. But sadly most of the performances are decidedly one-note while the cast wait for their big scenes, with only the female cast making much impression (the film is good on the submissive role women were forced to accept). Yet as good as Jin Chen is as the Emperor's wronged first wife, it's Gong Li who really impresses, and how. As the Empress trying to hold onto her sanity long enough to depose her husband before his poisoned medicine turns her into a living ghost she's remarkably powerful without ever overstating: it's the small details rather than the grand gestures that really count with her. Unfortunately as her stepson and lover, Ye Liu overacts the sensitive angst almost enough to make Nicholas Tse look subtle, yet somehow in their scenes together Gong Li still manages to keep them from sliding away into pure melodrama. Sadly, her efforts are never quite enough to make up for the film's shortcomings.
It's not helped by Universal's problematic UK DVD. The burnt-in subtitles are tiny and the first chapter is `locked' so you can't go back to catch a line you may have missed while squinting to make out the text. Nor is the transfer particularly good, the fact that there's not nearly enough detail in many shots becoming more apparent the larger the TV screen you watch it on. The extras are disappointingly US-centric - a reasonable but slightly misleading American making of documentary is alright despite bizarrely subtitling even Chow Yun Fat's English interview into English (!), but much of it is repeated on the two very short featurettes on Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li, while the two brief trailers are for the USA release, both avoiding dialogue scenes lest the audience find out it's in a foreign language.