Utterly beautiful melodrama

2008-10-02 08:05

The Curse of the Golden Flower is rivetting, bloody and absolutely beautiful. This is probably the most glamourous film I have ever seen and it is the most expensive Chinese film ever made. From the extravagant costumes to the lavish sets, it all contrives to provide a feeling of a very rich, very old and very cruel empire, governed by culture and precedent.

The movie is set in around 900 AD, in Tang Dynasty China. Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat) is the head of a royal family so dysfunctional they make Charles and Di look like the Bradys. Trapped in the vast and sumptuous Forbidden City (where myriad serving girls walk around with, for some reason, eternally jiggling cleavage), intrigue and suspicion breed and the stage is set for gore, melodrama and lots of floaty ninjas. The emperor is poisoning his unfaithful second wife Empress Phoenix (Gong Li), jealousies and rivalries are brewing between his three sons, and the empress has a nasty surprise of her own up her opulent sleeve.

What this film is saying, apparently, is that when you're an emperor, your marital discord is fought out between vast legions of extras whose sole function is to expire in various nasty and inventive ways.

The movie is well-plotted, with enough surprises to keep you watching, and lots of lovely betrayal, intrigue, revenge - even a little incest. The action is also great, especially the ninjas, but it lacks the sheer awesomeness of Hero, also made by Curse director Zhang Yimou. However, I think the emphasis on the emotions between the actors, rather than on the action, makes up for this. It gives the actors a chance to take centre stage, and they all hit the note of melodrama perfectly.

Strangely enough, this movie got quite mixed reviews. I think the reviewers who slated it took it a little too seriously. If visual action overload is what you're after, go see this. ****

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