Curse of the Golden Flower – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Zhang Yimou

Cast:
Chow Yun-Fat … Emperor Ping
Gong Li … Empress Phoenix
Jay Chou … Prince Jai
Liu Ye … Crown Prince Wan
Dahong Ni … Imperial Physician Jiang
Junjie Qin … Prince Yu
Li Man … Jiang Chan
Jin Chen … Mrs. Jiang


The Movie:

Since its Oscar winning run in 2000, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has changed the landscape for Martial Arts cinema. No longer has the genre been relegated to simply being escapist or action movies as film makers have finally become more aware of the potential power of these films. This couldn’t be any more evident than in the works of Zhang Yimou; a director who has embraced Martial Arts films in the last few years with vigor. Originally noted for his skills as a director of great Dramas, such as Raise the Red Lantern and The Story of Qiu Ju, Yimou has been able to meld his style with traditional Kung Fu films to create amazing visual spectacles, such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers. With his latest film, Curse of the Golden Flower, Yimou has once again created a visual masterpiece, but has abandoned his more personal storytelling method in favor of a more Shakespearean-esque tale of high court life and intrigue.

Taking place during China’s Tang Dynasty, the film is about a power struggle that takes place between the Emperor and Empress at the time who are played brilliantly here by two of China’s biggest stars, Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li. The battle is one of both will and strength, as each tries to outmaneuver the other by using an array of pawns to do their bidding. The Empress is having an affair with her stepson, who happens to be Wan (Liu Ye ),the Crown Prince of China, and tries to convince the Emperor’s second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou) to usurp the throne as well. The Emperor strikes back with his own political games, as well as slowly poisoning the Empress in an attempt to drive her mad.

Now while these proceedings are highly entertaining, it unfortunately renders the story a less than satisfying emotional experience, which has been the hallmark of Zhang Yimou’s films, including Hero and Flying Daggers. Another problem is that with all the characters having both good and evil characteristics, it’s difficult to really root for one particular side, distancing us from the characters as we go along. Lastly, fans looking forward to simply having an action spectacle will be disappointed, as the fights don’t really kick up for the first half of the movie at all, making us impatient for the coming bloodletting.

On the other hand, the second half of the film moves at a lightning pace. Once a band of ninja-like warriors show up on screen, the movie goes into over-drive for the rest of its running time while featuring battles ranging from two-on-one personal combat to showdowns with thousands of armored combatants in a life and death struggle. The latter battles are incredibly huge; using combinations of CGI and a thousand Chinese extras to create the most visceral action sequence Yimou has ever filmed.

The film also never lacks for pageantry, as the costuming and sets are some of the most stunningly beautiful ever created. The film overflows with gorgeous women in bulgingly tight corsets and strong men in various amounts of warrior garb which are all displayed in exquisite color and opulence and earned Costume Designer Chung Man Yee an Academy Award Nomination. The castle’s inner walls were also completely constructed on an indoor set that pops with colors on a level that I’ve never seen before.

On top of all this, you get incredible turns from the picture’s two veteran performers. It may simply be impossible for Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li to have bad performances, as they’re able to carry the dramatic weight on their shoulders. Chow Yun Fat goes through an incredible range of emotion, never overplaying his role, yet remaining very dynamic throughout. Gong Li also shows why she is Asia’s premiere actress as she wades through the haze of poisoning to wage war on her husband both mentally and physically. Her reuniting with the director who made her a star is a momentous event and it is treated as such.

Curse of the Golden Flower is a good, nearly great film, but falls short because it simply becomes too hard to identify with its characters. Still, it has a lot going for it as Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li are world class, and the film action and design are both top notch. Some aspects of this film exhilarate you, but overall it is unfortunately cold and unmoving.


The DVD:

The Video
Sony Picture Classics has done another wonderful job on this disc, as the colors smack you in the face, just as they should. There’s no degradation at all on screen and you never have to worry about the picture being too dark, even in the night fights. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is also very good. The film’s sound design is quite good, highlighted by this fantastic track. The balance between action and dialogue never suffers and the score never overpowers the proceedings.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Featurettes, Trailers.

Secrets Within – This Featurette is pretty well detailed even though it only runs about 21 minutes. We get a lot of great interviews with the stars that offer interesting tidbits into the making of this film and what it was like. Chow Yun Fat jokes a lot during his time in the Featurette, and Gong Li goes over what the reunion with Zhang Yimou was like. I especially find this last part interesting, because there seems to be a deep affection, yet hurt right under the surface from this actress, who was involved with the director 11 years ago. Another fun interview is with Jay Chou, who talks about how intimidating it was to work with Gong Li and how he had a hard time even looking her in the eye.

Los Angeles Premiere – This lasts about 2 and a half minutes and looks at the craziness of the film’s L.A. premiere, featuring interviews with the film’s director and others.

Trailers – You get several trailers on the disc, including ones for Volver, Kung Fu Hustle, The Italian, Black Book, and many others.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Curse of the Golden Flower
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

7.5
THE VIDEO

8.5
THE AUDIO

8.5
THE EXTRAS

3.5
REPLAY VALUE

8
OVERALL
7
(NOT AN AVERAGE)

The Inside Pulse
This is the least involving of Zhang Yimou’s Martial Arts epics, but it’s still a very entertaining film. With huge fights, gorgeous women, and terrific performance, this film still makes the grade. The disc also has a couple of good features, but I wish there were more.