Curse of the Golden Flower - Review

ThomasC

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Curse of the Golden Flower, AKA "Gosh damn, the Tang Dynasty circa 971 A.D. was seriously fucked up and Zhang Yimou doesn't pull any punches"

Pulling no punches can be good, but Zhang takes a lot of things too far. He shows no restraint, and that leads to the film's downfall. I wasn't a big fan of Hero or House of Flying Daggers either. I guess I just really don't like his "martial arts epics."

I much prefer his earlier films, Red Sorgham and To Live (the only other ones I've seen).

out of
 

Patrick Sun

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My 1-word review: Bosomy.

Okay, got that out of the way...

I thought the first half of the film took far too long to set up the situations while not really developing the characters enough to elicit sympathy or scorn, thus squandering a lot of the running time in the first half.

Things pick up in a short second act with some neat sequences of fight scenes, but by then, it's a tragi-comedy for me, with many of the revelations telegraphed far too early, with no emotional consequence for most of the cast of characters for this viewer, and it was almost like watching a Chinese version of a Jerry Springer episode set hundreds of years ago, it's that "funny" and that tragic.

The last act is visually interesting, but yet straddles a line between reality and fantasy in some spots, to its detriment.

I give it 2.5 stars, or a grade of C+.
 

Bob Turnbull

Supporting Actor
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Dec 2, 2001
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Just saw this tonight and that's a nice summation...Except it's so visually rich and beautiful to look at that I rate it higher. There's issues with the script and acting and some other plot points, but I was too entertained by just watching the damn screen that I didn't worry about it much. Not high praise for its story, but Yimou is still one of my favourite directors currently.

If you like his more character based films, last year's Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles is fantastic. It should be out on DVD in a month or so. Earlier films like Raise The Red Lantern, Not One Less and The Road Home are all terrific and earn their emotional responses much more.
 

Kirk Tsai

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This is the tenth Zhang film I've seen, and pretty clearly my least favorite. In addition to the family feud, power struggle drama being underwhelming, I also thought the action was a throw in, whereas Zhang's previous action films were clearly much more integral to the movie (not to mention more well choreographed and shot). The mise en scene and cinematography save the movie from being unwatchable.
 

Phil Florian

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All these reviews have summed this film up but I will add that I really can't consider this a "martial arts" film any more than I consider it a musical because instruments were played in it. There were a couple interesting action scenes, to be sure, but I would put the recent FEARLESS in the camp of "martial arts epic" since the martial arts were center to the story (as it was with HERO and partially with HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) but in this movie, we basically get a warmed over Shakespearian-like court intrigue with a healthy dose of soap opera (I mean that in the worst possible way) and a healthier dose of Chinese culture that, to these Western eyes, doesn't make sense.

I haven't figured out what to take of Zhang Yimou's last few movies. HERO and I think FLOWERS (that movie I forgot mostly) have all-powerful King figure who is essentially a horrible despot and seemingly deserving of destruction yet in both movies, we find that good can never conquer evil. Is this a commentary on the Chinese government? It seems doubtful since I thought these movies were vetted through a screening process to get made in the mainland. Who knows. It is beyond me.

But political leanings aside, this was a boring soap opera without a single redeeming character that was slow to build to no where and just when we hoped it was getting good, it ended and evil had won. I don't mind downer endings (I just saw a great recent horror movie that shall remain nameless for spoiler reasons but sufice it to say, it ends horrible for the main characters and yet was a fabulous character piece as well as fabulous story and horror movie all rolled into one) but for such an ending to work I need to be very invested in the characters to appreciate such an outcome and that wasn't there for me at all with this movie. Gong Li's beautiful visage aside, I didn't feel for her character or know enough about her to believe in her. Chow Yun Fat was also so restrained and poorly drawn that even his natural charisma was not enough to save the movie.

I do agree that some of it was nice to look at...for a while. But after the many outdoor expanses of his last two epics (and even his more personal films, I believe) this was a very cramped looked at a giant palace where we see basically the same hallway over and over and a couple rooms and not much more. It wasn't very good with the special effects, either. The big battle scenes intended to overwhelm but even with a casual glance among the archery troops, for example, I saw a bunch of dudes just pulling back bows for effects, where the SFX guys decided not to add arrows to the shots. Sloppy and very "last generation" in look.

I hope that this is Yimou's last epic period piece for a while. He needs to get back to the more character and story driven pieces that he became known for and get away from these politically heavy melodramas.

Phil
 

TheLongshot

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Do a search on Hero to read some good analysis on how it's theme supports the current Chinese government. Even so, I still really like the film.

Unfortunately, I didn't like Daggers nearly as much. Too much of a downer. I still want to see this, but I'm not nearly as hot on Yimou as I was after I saw Hero.

Jason
 

Phil Florian

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I have read stuff like that when it first came out now that you mention it. I half wonder if this movie does the same, with the whole "Despots rule! Rebellions drool!" sort of theme to it. Both HERO and FLOWERS have their emporers telling us why it is stupid to try and fight them, but at least for HERO's Emporer we saw a much more noble figure who was trying to bring China under one flag and much more compelling and well drawn conspirators, for the most part. If FLOWERS does anything, it makes we want to learn more about Chinese history. I remember doing some reading around HERO about the Three Kingdoms and such. It is such a rich history but so tough to grasp for me because it is SO rich and so long. It was easier to get into the history around 19th Century-set movies (the Wong Fei-hong flicks, for example) because there was a Western perspective to it so it is easier to get a feel for it through contrasts and such.

Phil
 

Kirk Tsai

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HERO was not set during the Three Kingdoms time frame. It was several hundred years before. IIRC, the Tang Dynasty had a an episode of several princes battling/killing each other for power, so maybe that's why Zhang set "Flower" in this dynasty.

Regarding the politial undertones, I had argued against a common reading of Hero, which argued that the film in some ways supports unification through force or fascistic philosophy. See the Hero discussion thread, which is still availible under the search function. However, FLOWER is devoid of political content. I'm not sure any statement is made at all. If there is, it is depths underneath the surface, whereas HERO openly invites the discussion. I suppose one could say that Chow's emperor is one of the least likeable characters in the film, and that his survival is a subversive comment, but that certainly requires a great deal of already established opinion in the viewer's mind.
 

Matthew Brown

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Sep 19, 1999
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There is one thing that bothered me about this movie.
When the attack was led at the end, wouldn't the son be aware of the defenses? Being in command of a squad, wouldn't he know what all the defenses were? Especially being Chow Yun-Fat's son? It just seems he should have know of the "moving wall while arrows being shot at your head" tactic would be deployed.

Chow Yun-Fat slipped out of character for a moment and I loved it. The laugh he gives When he is beating his son
is so him that it sounds more like an out take. It made the scene unintentionally comedic for me.

Matt
 

Chris Roberts

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Jul 7, 2004
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I watched this on Saturday and I guess I'm the only one here who actually liked the movie. The story had more depth than Flying Daggers and the characters weren't the heroic types or even anti-heroes I usually see in these kinds of movies. His previous action movies seem to just get better with repeat viewings as subtleties I didn't notice the first time become more apparent. I expect the same for Golden Flower.


I liked how Gong Li seems sympathetic at first and the Emperor seems like a bastard at first. Which he is, but not because he's poisoning his unfaithful wife. He was just trying to protect his throne the entire movie from betrayals by the Empress and her two sons. He did some bad stuff in the past and sent his assassins to keep that secret hidden, but the Empress is responsible for all the other deaths in the movie.

The visuals were really good, which isn't a shocker. The palace seemed large, but confining to the characters in it. Chow Yun Fat was great as the Emperor. I laughed in joy watching some of the action scenes unfold, but I don't recall laughing at the story or characters. I was always interested in what they were saying/doing to learn more about them and follow the plot better. I didn't feel the first half was too slow. I'd say the pace was twice as fast as the entirety of Red Lantern. In fact I kept thinking he was trying to meld his drama-directing in more than he did with the previous two action movies.
 

Seth Paxton

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This is about as well as I could describe it. The action almost seemed out of place and cartoonishly grand when it did arrive for no good reason. The rest of the film plays at the soap opera melodrama level and does not mix well with the action attempts at all, or make for all that great a story on it's own.

I expected it to turn and punch up toward the end like Hero had, but in this case it was a lot more of what you see is what you get instead. Not terrible simply due to the art direction, cinematography and direction within some of the scenes (photographically speaking, not editing/story pacing, that's mostly blah).

At times Daggers and Hero bordered on style over substance but the power of the style made it possible. Frankly the style is just a lot less inspired this time out.

I give it a 7 of 10, which is usually either silly but fun or quality but underwhelming. This wasn't all that fun.
 

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