Curse of the Golden Flower
- Curse of the Golden Flower
I went to see this film on Christmas Eve with an old schoolfriend and my girlfriend in Oriental Plaza (Wangfujing, Beijing) Cinema.
The director, Zhang Yimou, has been responsible for some of the biggest global Chinese hits in recent memory: Hero (英雄) and House of Flying Daggers (十面埋伏). He's carved out his directorial niche in the shape of Historical Fantasy Epics and his films have developed several standard features:
- A strong, all-star cast.
- Excellent use of colour themes.
- Artistic blend of dialogue and martial arts (武侠).
- A mix of fantasy and history.
- Subtle (and not-so-subtle) and often topical undercurrents.
- A tragic ending.
And Curse of the Golden Flower fills this template. Before I went to see the film I'd heard that it'd received negative reviews and, upon hearing that Jay Chow (周杰伦 - a famous Taiwanese singer) and Chou Yun-Fat (周润发 - quite famous globally, having starred in several HK/Chinese and American films), I feared that this would be a case of huge sums of money thrown at big stars to phone in a dire performance. Having seen the film, I can now say that I was pleasantly surprised.
The first thing to be said is that this movie has the biggest budget in Chinese Film History. And it shows. The film is replete with stunning sets and intricate detail. The costumes are varied, rich and ooze quality. Zhang Yimou went so far as to forget about historical context and just go all out on the scenery. Almost the entire film is set in what appears to be the Forbidden City. Now as any History student who's taken Dr. Gerritsen's fantastic The Dragon's Ascent course (Is it still running?) will know, "The Forbidden City":http://www.answers.com/topic/forbidden-city was not constructed (at huge expense) until the reign of the Second Emperor of the Ming Dynasy, 永乐皇帝 The Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the famous treasure fleet under the direction of the Muslim Eunuch Zheng He. Having missed the first couple of minutes of the movie, I no doubt missed some form of written contextualisation. However I do remember that 辽 (as in the 辽朝 Liao Dynasty) was mentioned several times which sets it either in the later 唐 Tang period or the Five Dynasties Ten Kingdoms period. Either way, there is no way that such a massive construction was built during or just after the later tang period. But who cares about history? The film's scenery feels Imperial and, therefore, while it's not realistic (and at times feels like an advert for one of China's famous glass sculpture companies), it does look gorgeous.
Zhang Yimou shows his continued mastery of colour and contrast in this film. In Hero we had the Qin's black-coated troops facing off against members of other Kingdoms decked in various colours. In House of Flying Daggers we saw rich colours in both the costumes and scenery (if I remember correctly Zhang Yimou even went to film in Russia in order to find the right colours for his leaves). Here we have the contrast between black and gold. I'm not going to go in-depth on this because the use of colour is quite integral to the development of the plot, but I found it a colour-filled luscious screen-banquet.
With regards to the themes of the movie, there is much to talk about but, alas, many of the themes are marked by plot twists and I don't really want to give much away. There do, however, seem to be Confucian undercurrents (in terms of familial and monarchical values). You can interpret the movie as presenting an argument against pre-marital sex and Zhang Yimou seems to revel in the sexual aspect of the film. While that argument can be read from the film, it's replete with all sorts of boob action. Nearly every woman in the film is packed into a tight corset, driving their breasts up to their chins. My girlfriend spent half of the movie yelling "Gosh, look at her boobs." In fact some Chinese have changed the name of the film from 满城尽带黄金甲 (The Entire City is Covered with Golden Armour) to 满城尽爆黄金奶 (The Entire City is Filled with Bursting Golden Boobies). I can only assume that Zhang YiMou's doing this in order to appeal more to the western market or that he's just relishing the chance to 有一腿 ("have a leg" - essentially means to have an affair) with as many actresses as possible.
The acting was strong, despite my expectations. Jay Chow had a bit of a Keanu Reeves effect. He mumbled a lot and was mostly expressionless, but I feel that this fit well with his character and the more I saw of him, the more well-suited he appeared to be for the role. Similarly, imagining Chow Yun-Fat as an Emperor, I was filled with preemptive disappointment. But on watching the film, he surprised me. He fulfilled the role of a complete bastard with glee and turned out to be very impressive, although my girlfriend kept making me guffaw every time she'd nudge me and point out "SEE! When he sits down he looks like Yoda!". Gong Li was good, but there's something about her that rubs me the wrong way. I just don't really like her, despite her beauty.
The Plot has been fiercely criticised for being weak and unintelligible. But I found it to be easy to follow and very interesting. Some of the plot "twists" were obvious and you could see them coming a mile away, but others were both shocking and exciting. Zhang Yimou managed to inject a sense of humour into the film ("LAUNCH!" --- "CATCH!") and he resisted the temptation to create a series of martial-arts fights and pitched battles. In fact there is a very well-balanced mix of intrigue, dialogue and fight scenes. We have some murders, a (practise duel) between father and son (right at the beginning - it's not a spoiler!) and a full on pitched battle and the battle scene was a beautiful cascade of colour.
So if you put aside your disbelief and allow yourself to be immersed in the Palace intrigue of the film, then you'll find it very enjoyable. If you're just after one mindless-yet-cool battle scene after another, then this isn't the film for you.
- Jay Chow (周杰伦) was also the lead singer for the film's soundtrack. You can find the film's official song here: "黄金甲":http://mp3.baidu.com/m?f=ms&rn=&tn=baidump3&ct=134217728&word=%BB%C6%BD%F0%BC%D7&lm=0
- Gong Li failed to attend the film's premier. At the premier Chow Yun-fat mentioned that she'd often made fun of/criticised his Mandarin. He then publically lashed back at her saying words to the effect of "I'd like to see her star in a Cantonese film and see how well she manages to speak Cantonese".
- Director Zhang YiMou once visited Warwick University and held a talk at the Warwick Arts Centre (either 2003 or 2004)