Archive for the ‘Chinese Films’ Category


CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (2007) (aka Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia)

November 25, 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower review
Curse of the Golden Flower

Matt: Two stars
Tracy: Two stars

Length: 114min


Unspeakable secrets are hidden within the Forbidden City.
Father knows best.
One King. One Queen. His Power. Her Rebellion.
A Queen’s revenge will threaten an empire.

Précis: An ornate, breast-bouncing tragedy that cinema goers will find tiresome and the CCP will applaud.

Review by Matt:

Hey, thanks Curse of the Golden Flower. Thanks for ending my run of good films. I was starting to miss the pain. Now at last I’ve grazed myself on a bad movie again. Mmm, it stings so good.

Golden Flower is the latest film from Chinese director Zhang Yimou, who has become very popular internationally since directing Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Those films were lavish and exciting but, I have to say, philosophically they both rubbed me wrong. Hero especially seemed to embody a philosophy that people must always follow the law and those who don’t must necessarily be punished (hello to the Chinese Communist Party). Golden Flower preaches the same bleak message. For anyone thinking of fighting oppression and rebelling against tyrants – don’t. That grates me. (although, if I was living under the CCP I probably wouldn’t want to make a movie that goes soft on rebellion either).

Golden Flower tells the story of the troubled family of the Emperor and Empress of the 10th century Chinese Tang dynasty. On the outside they’re all gold and cleavage. But something is rotten inside. Plots are afoot. The Emperor is poisoning the Empress. The Empress is having an affair. So is the Prince. So is the Emperor. Some of their affairs are with each other. It’s a big-screen Chinese soap opera (Dynasty, I suppose). There’s intrigue everywhere. It all boils together in a big confused soup for an hour until, in the last act, it washes away in one colossal, swarming battle scene.

It’s all extremely melodramatic and tragic. Not good tragic though. Although it echoes a bit of Shakespeare, it’s way too hollow and ostentatious to earn the label “Shakespearian”. Just as an example, compare these lines:

Shakespeare’s Othello (as Iago unveils his evil plan for vengeance): So will I turn her virtue into pitch / And out of her own goodness make the net / That shall enmesh them all.

Curse of the Golden Flower (as the Prince unveils his evil plan for vengeance): I’m not a fool! Give the throne to me now! I want it all! I know you never cared! You never liked me! No one wanted me! You can rot in hell!

The poorly told story and strange pacing (not to mention insipid dialogue) means the tragedy never even moves us – let alone sings – as it does in Shakespeare. Zhang seems to only have a vague idea about constructing and pacing a plot and he seems only able to sketch his characters. The actors (which include Chow-Yun Fat and Gong Li) try to fill them out with over-the-top emoting which, unfortunately, often just looks comical. And, perhaps most tragically of all for this film, it even lacks the fantastic martial arts that redeemed Hero and House of Flying Daggers. That would have given the film a spine and we could at least have walked out saying “but wasn’t the kung-fu amazing?”

Kudos to Zhang for putting such a massive effort into the ornate spectacle that is this film. Golden Flower is so decorated with gold and colour that you’ll be wondering how the $45 million budget – the most ever spent on a Chinese film – was enough (though don’t forget how cheap Chinese trinkets are). But there’s only so far you can get with gold and breasts. One place you can get to is the record books for most gold-drenched and cleavage-ridden set. Another place is somewhere like, say, the director’s chair for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Zhang was recently awarded this post. I’m sure the ceremony will be a glorious, CCP-pleasing extravaganza. The CCP probably loved Curse of the Golden Flower as well. Not me though. It’s a dissatisfying, laborious melodrama disguised in a tinselly wrapping.