Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

Directed by Yimou Zhang

I had been putting off watching Curse of the Golden Flower because some time ago I had foolishly read a review that was less than enthusiastic. What a mistake!

I loved it and for a number of reasons.

Visually, it’s spectacular. But I suppose that’s to be expected given that it was directed by Yimou Zhang (Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, House of Flying Daggers).

And there are the action sequences, which may also have been expected given those latter two films (Hero, Flying Daggers), though the action is clearly not the focus here. It is a support element for character as well as being a plot device.

I think what I really loved about the film was the story.

Scene from Curse of the Golden Flower.

It begins slowly and builds, almost like peeling back an onion, revealing layers of conflict and complexity. As others have mentioned, it plays quite a bit like a Shakespearean tragedy with the intrigue and secrets and themes of power, revenge and incest.

Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I love stories like this.

And the story is really the star here as its strength allows for the breathtaking sets and sequences and compelling (as well as brilliant) performances from an array of actors beginning with the film’s stars, Chow Yun Fat as Emperor Ping and Gong Li as Empress Phoenix.

I must admit, however, the last two minutes or so of the movie were a bit of a disappointment for me, though this had more to do with my expectations. I really was looking for what would be considered a standard, cookie cutter ending (a come-uppance for the Emperor).

Scene from Curse of the Golden Flower.

However, that was a gut response. On reconsideration, the ending the film provides is both inevitable and proper. And that “come uppance” is there but more skillfully handled than my expectations were allowing for.

In fact, I’m anxious to watch the whole thing again.

What more could you ask of a film? A great story, great performances, great visuals: Curse of the Golden Flower has it all.

As for the action, when it does get started, and I’m thinking of the film’s apotheosis here, it is eye-popping.

And for drama, there is an incredible scene where family secrets are revealed.

I absolutely loved this movie. Highly recommended.


2 Responses

  1. PB says:

    PB would have to disagree with you there unfortunately. The Curse was a horrible rendition of an otherwise potentially great film. Chinese historical dramas are bound by certain unwritten aesthetics and this one made a mockery of all of those. While PB stands ambivalent with Yang Zhimou as a director, she most certainly found this work to be particularly annoying. Notice the oversaturated colors, the distorted psychedlic lighting, the overtly sexual displays, the subpar dialogue – yes, they helped achieved an effect but was it a worthy one? PB feels like this is yet another Chinese film that is geared toward the Western market because it caters to a very Western sense of what Asian cinema should be in order to be good. It is not even remotely historically accurate and seemed to have been made with little regard to character developement, opting for cool special effects instead. In fact it was very poorly received among Chinese film critics and audiences alike. PB counts herself one of those dissenters.

    P.S. Sorry to have just left a comment without any introduction. Hello. PB found Piddleville after googling classic movie blogs.

  2. says:

    Thanks for visiting Piddleville! Sorry, but I have to disagree with your disagreement. I think parts of your argument are false as they suggest an audience must have an awareness of “certain unwritten aesthetics,” history (always somewhat subjective), and of China itself. While this might be helpful, even desired, a movie cannot expect an audience to come to it with anything other than a willingness to watch. It stands or falls only as a movie, a story.

    I certainly wouldn’t disagree that it has appeal for a western audience, or even that it was made with that in mind. Only Yimou Zhang could answer that question. Still, it’s good or bad as a story, one well told or not. It can’t be considered good or bad due to its historical accuracy or by how well it fits into an aesthetic.

    I grant you, an audience in China may appreciate (or not) a film differently than a western audience. Within a Chinese context, it may be a lousy movie. But I can only judge it from a western context – it’s really all I know. Neither negates the other or is ascendant over the other.

    From my perspective, it is a very good film. I found the story engaging and, honestly, I don’t care if its historically accurate. This is a drama and, by definition, fiction.

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