Curse of the Golden Flower ***1/2
"Curse of the Golden Flower" is another one of those films in the vein of "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." Amazing visual feasts with stunning use of color and sets, and even some of the best action scenes on film. It's a strange contradiction, but even though I am getting a little tired of these films, I still can't help but marvel over how they achieve some of these images, and "Curse of the Golden Flower" is once again a successful visual masterpiece by Zhang Yimou, a man who knows how to plan a shot. After the lazy, laptop computer editing job from "The Promise" last May, it's nice to see a stylistic action film with just that: style. "Curse of the Golden Flower" doesn't just offer amazing visuals, but a plot in the vein of Shakespeare-there's incest, family betrayal, and the distruction of honor-nothing sort of something that was written by the big man himself.
"Curse of the Golden Flower" focuses on the Chinese royal family. There is the Emperor who is slowly poisoning his wife by feeding her a deadly fungus every night at dinner. The Emperor's wife is having a sexual affair with her step son-Crown Prince Wan-who is carrying out his own affair with the doctor's daughter, Chan. A mysterious woman in block shows up and tells the Empress about what she has been drinking, and the wife concocts an insane plan to overthrow her husband, and finally get her revenge. The pharmacist and his family are thrown out of the palace, as the Empress tricks them into thinking they are getting a promotion. The Empress' plan ends up creating a full fledged war between the two family, and as the family is up on the roof debating and coming clean with every single family secret, the two sides of the military begin to form outside the castle. And then there's the issue with the youngest son of the family who is angry at all the attention all of his other brothers get, and decides to take it upon himself to change things a little bit.
At times "Curse of the Golden Flower" is over the top, but it really is over the top in the classical sense of the term. Of course it is over the top-after all look at what the characters are all doing. The entire situation is over the top. This is a cross between Oedipus, Shakespeare, and martial arts, and it ends up being a perfect blend. It's a little bit of a shock at first, because not knowing anything about the story when I sat in I expected an all out action brawl, but this has surprising depth and is deep in character and story. And then for every single plot revelation and twist, there is a greater amount of amazing visuals, inside the castle and out. Each shot is carefully planned and presented, from the steps of the castle covered in golden yellow flowers depicting peace and happiness within the family unit, to the more darker colors inside depicting the dark family that they really are. The battle scenes are breathtaking and some of the most exciting of the year. This is a theatre viewing must, as proven with "Hero" and "House of Flying Dagger," the visuals just do not look good enough on the small screen as they do on the big. These visuals manage to carry the film even when the plot gets a little too much, but the story is the precise deliciously dark kind that I thirst for. "Curse of the Golden Flower" is a glorious spectacle, and fans of Zhang Yimou will know that he did it again.