CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER is yet another historical-fantasy spectacle from China, this one from 2006, directed & written by Zhang Yimou, acclaimed creator of Raise The Red Lantern and Hero. At $45,000,000, at the time it was the most expensive film yet produced in China, and it makes for quite an eyeful.
Set in 928 A.D., the over-the-top operatic epic has a cruel Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) poisoning the Empress (Gong Li) while she yearns for her stepson Prince. Power schemes, romantic entanglements, subsumed desire, who gets the throne next– the age-old royalty cut-throat biz, with half the dialogue super-heavy with ‘deep’ meaning and half taken up by endless polite protocol jazz (“May it please your gracious lordship”)–it reminded me of a submarine war picture, where every other sentence is technical and repeated (“come about three degrees port”).
The action scenes are CGI augmented, and are of the impossible-whirling-backflip-magic sword variety that has zero basis in reality, so there is no tension generated with all the furious movement because we don’t believe it. That gravity suspension and exaggeration of physical possibility worked brilliantly in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but has been done to numb since, so the over-choreagraphed fight scenes here quickly come off as just elaborate silliness, despite the aid given by a propulsive music score from the prolific Shigeru Umabayashi. Performances are good.
What commands at least a look-see is the luxurious, near-blinding color splash of the costuming and art direction. The costumes—some of them six layers deep, weighing as much as 90 pounds—drew an Oscar nomination (ceded in a fair fight to Marie Antionette), but the set designs are as dazzling of any this side of Venus: they’re nearly overpowering at times. One of the sets was reputedly the largest ever constructed in China. Twenty minutes worth goggling at the kaleidoscope of color may suffice for sitting through the whole 114 minutes that the earnest but familiar dramatics take to wind down. It took in $78,000,000. With Jay Chou, Ye Liu, Dahong Ni, Jungie Kin and Li Man.