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Curse of the Golden Flower

Hong Kong/China 2006
produced by
William Kong, Zhang Weiping, Zhang Yimou for Beijing New Picture Film, EDKO, Film Partner International
directed by Zhang Yimou
starring Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Chou Jay, Liu Ye, Ni Dahong, Qin Junjie, Li Man, Chen Jin
screenplay by Zhang Yimou, based on a play by Cao Yu, music by Shigeru Umebayashi, action director: Ching Siu-Tung, special effects by Moving Picture Company (MPC), Centro Digital Pictures

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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China 928 AD, the Tang Dynasty: Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat) resides in the imperial palace with his wife (Gong Li) and three sons, the eldest, Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), the wisest Jai (Chou Jay) and the youngest and most naive Yu (Qin Junjie), and as they are preparing for the chrysanthenum festival, a festival in honour of the Emperor's deceased first wife - and Wan's mother - everything could be perfect ... but it isn't: with the help of the Imperial physician Jiang (Ni Dahong) and his daughter Chan (Li Man), the Emperor is slowly poisoning the Empress, mainly because she has an affair with her stepson, Wan, while WAn himself wants to leave the court behind for good and start a new life with young Chan.

However, eventually the Empress finds out about her husband's plot from the physican's wife (Chen Jin) ... who just happens to be the Emperor's first wife who hasn't died at all but was branded and exiled - and now she wants revenge on her former husband. Thing is, since she is not only the mother of Chan but also of Wan, this turns their relationship into incest.

The Empress meanwhile manages to win over Jai to her side in order to overthrow her husband and install Jai on the throne, as a revenge for him trying to poison her ...

The whole thing ends in chaos when Wan tries to commit suicide learning about the plot of his stepmom, then stabbed by his own brother, young Yu, who also wants to become Crown Prince - but is in the end killed and beaten to a pulp by his own father -, while both Chan and her mother are slaughtered by the Imperial guards when trying to sort things out, and physican Jiang is being killed upon the Emperor's orders. And Jai's attempt to overthrow his father are subdued by the imperial army who kill most of his soldiers and take him prisoner.

In the end, the Emperor promises Jai mercy when he from that day on feeds his mother her (poisoned) medicine - but he rather kills himself than killing his mom. Be that as it may, the Emperor forces his wife to take the medicine anyhow ...

 

In scope, Curse of the Golden Flower has all the elements of a classic Greek tragedy, including murder among the family, incest, (attempted) patricide, suicide, madness - and director Zhang Yimou paints this picture on a big canvas, making this a monumental period piece with the usual plotting and intrigue quite besides (mostly CGI-generated) impressive mass scenes, lavish sets (some of them also CGI) and a finale with plenty of action and violence. However, the film does fall short of being a masterpiece, the direction is a bit too formalized (even if that correlates with the fomalized rituals in the Imperial Court) and everything, even small scenes, is a bit too choreographed to really get the story and the characters across. That said, Curse of the Golden Flower is still definitely worth a look, even if it falls a bit short of its promises.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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