Wednesday, December 15, 2010

“What I do not give, you must never take by force.”

Remember Hero and House of Flying Daggers? (Oh, crap, haven’t reviewed House of Flying Daggers yet. IGNORE ME!!) Well, that same director, Yimou Zhang made yet another period martial arts movie, this time with Chow Yun-Fat and a grandiose sense of scale that would make Cecil B. DeMille jealous. Here’s 2006’s Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia aka Curse of the Golden Flower.

Take a whole bunch of plot elements from Shakespeare’s Tragedies, throw them into ancient China and wait for the body count. Explaining it further will simply complicate things, but here goes. Emperor Ping (Yun-Fat Chow -- using the names as they appear on IMDB here) is a bearded badass warlord who rules with an iron fist. He’s got a beautiful wife, Empress Phoenix (Li Gong), whom he is poisoning daily in order to drive her insane (he can’t kill her outright because her father is a powerful lord). Thing is, she knows he’s poisoning her and she’s planning a coup to get her revenge. Between the two of them, they start manipulating the three Princes: Prince Jai (Jay Chou), Crown Prince Wan (Ye Liu) and Prince Yu (Junjie Quin) like pawns on a chessboard. The plot gets heavy.

And then ninjas show up. Yes, this is China, but damn it, the Emperor has a small army of guys who dress in black, strike from the shadows and generally behave exactly like typical movie ninjas.

Directed by Yimou Zhang and cinematography by Xiaoding Zhao, the first thing that strikes you (and continues to strike you throughout) is the sheer volume of color that explodes onto your eyeballs. Gold figures prominently, but next to that, there’s a dazzling rainbow that is constantly assailing your brain. I imagine if you this movie was combined with LSD, heads would physically explode.

Color saturation overdose aside, the movie, like Yimou’s other films, is strikingly beautiful. The fights are breathtaking and brutal and have a punctuate the narrative nicely.

Written by Yimou Zhang and based on the play “Lei yu” by Yu Cao, the plot really does feel like Shakespeare’s Tragedies were stitched together into a Byzantine framework of subterfuge, betrayal, rebellion, tyranny, lust, incest, poisoning, shocking revelations and so on. All that’s missing is cannibalism. I’m saying this is a bad thing, since the end result is a complex but coherent creature with its own personality. Just don’t go into it expecting a happy ending.

Original music by Shigeru Umebayashi. The score is quite appropriate for a movie of this grandeur, with the action sequences being accompanied by a thunderous score.

Curse of the Golden Flower is one hell of a visual trip, and its helped by a significantly deep storyline that is full of crazy twists and turns. It begins as a slow boil, but by the time shit hits the fan, it REALLY hits the fan. Very recommended.


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