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  Publicity Stills of "The Curse of the Golden Flower"
(Courtesy from BVI)

Genre: Drama
Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Liu Ye, Chen Jin, Qin Junjie, Li Man, Ni Dahong
RunTime: -
Released By: BVI
Rating: PG

Opening Day: 21 December 2006


Synopsis :

China, Later Tang Dynasty, 10th Century.

On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou). His pretext is to celebrate the holiday with his family, but given the chilled relations between the Emperor and the ailing Empress (Gong Li), this seems disingenuous.

For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit liaison. Feeling trapped, Prince Wan dreams of escaping the palace with his secret love Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor's daughter.

Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows worried over the Empress's health and her obsession with golden chrysanthemums. Could she be headed down an ominous path?

The Emperor harbors equally clandestine plans; the Imperial Doctor (Ni Dahong) is the only one privy to his machinations. When the Emperor senses a looming threat, he relocates the doctor's family from the Palace to a remote area.

While they are en route, mysterious assassins attack them. Chan and her mother, Jiang Shi (Chen Jin) are forced back to the palace. Their return sets off a tumultuous sequence of dark surprises.

Amid the glamour and grandeur of the festival, ugly secrets are revealed. As the Imperial Family continues its elaborate charade in a palatial setting, thousands of golden armored warriors charge the palace. Who is behind this brutal rebellion? Where do Prince Jai's loyalties lie? Between love and desire, is there a final winner?

Against a moonlit night, thousands of chrysanthemum blossoms are trampled as blood spills across the Imperial Palace.

Movie Review:

It is highly probable that you are one of the many viewers who laughed when Maggie Cheung deflected tens of thousands of arrows and remained unhurt in Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002). You are also probably one of those who sniggered at how Zhang Ziyi could miraculously “rise from the dead” in Zhang’s second martial arts epic House of Flying Daggers (2004).

Be assured, the Chinese auteur won’t be tickling your funny bones too much in his latest star-studded visual extravaganza.

The sullen plot is reminiscent of world-renowned playwright Cao Yu’s Thunderstorm, a modern drama about the complicated relationships among the members and servants of a well-to-do family in old China. In this movie, we are brought back in time to the Tang Dynasty where the Emperor returns home to his disintegrating Empress and three sons, who each bear an ulterior motive behind those thick pricey royal robes.

With a US$45 million budget, it is only justifiable that the Oscar-nominated director produced an expensive-looking film like this. And truth be told, Zhang, who is best known to bring to screen some very pretty visuals, will not disappoint his fund-providers. And hopefully he’d impress some Oscar judges too, should the movie be nominated for any category next February during the 79th Academy Awards.

While the large amount of gold colours in the palace may be too garish and overused to some, you cannot deny the fact that a lot of effort was thrown into designing its interior. The outdoor locations and settings are also fine examples of massive scale and manpower utilization.

You have to see them on the big screen yourself to feel the grandeur of the film.

Besides the impressive production values, themes of maintaining order and power in an organized system; as well as those of intrigue, betrayal and desire run deep in this luscious movie. But alas, instead of letting these poignant and stark topics taking the limelight, it was the huge amount of bright golden colours which over-shone these ideas.

It is a pity, because we know how well Zhang can affectingly bring out these messages, given his classic works like Red Sorghum (1987), Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and To Live (1994).

The graduate of the prestigious Beijing Film Academy is also known to cast capable actors in his works to display the most complex human relations. His recent movies are also increasingly showcasing some of Asia’s most well-known faces. Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li and Jay Chou headline are the chosen ones to headline his 16th movie.

Chow effortlessly plays the tyrannical ruler with some cold and unfeeling stares. Gong Li, who was once touted as Zhang’s muse, injects the right amount of vulnerability and determination into the role of the suffering queen – without you having to shift attention away from her well-endowed bosoms.

Golden Horse Best Actor Liu Ye gets our vote for playing the treacherous eldest son with empathetic confusion and inner tension. Too bad he does not have the marketing value like the co-star who plays his younger brother, who sadly, is the weakest link in the film

Chou, who is everybody’s favourite Prince of Mandopop, looks awkward in his period costume, and clearly do not display as much weight when acting next to his veteran co-stars.

But when the movie comes to an end and Chou does his day job of singing the soulful theme song "Chrysanthemum Flower Bed" over the end credits, you’d feel that the movie has reached an appropriate closure.

And hopefully, you’d be reflecting on the lyrics and the tragic consequences the human heart can bring about.

Movie Rating:

(Another visually-enticing work from Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou, with its intriguing themes being overshadowed by the movie’s star power and luscious images)

Review by John Li


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