We managed to miss seeing it in the theater, so Kyla picked this one up on DVD a while back. Last night we made time to take it in. And oh, there’s so much to take in!
“Curse of the Golden Flower” is an expensive and beautiful Chinese film portraying an imperial family that, to put it simply, is one hell of a mess. The Emperor, his three sons, his consort, and the family of his key physician are almost the entirety of the cast… if you set aside the small army of servants and large army of… well, soldiers. I’ll try not to spoil much of the plot, but suffice to say that nobody has truly clean hands among the royal family.
The trailers make this movie look like just another pretty, wire-fu spectacle starring Chow Yun Fat. In fact the martial arts action is quite limited, and appropriately so. What we get instead is a slow-boiling cauldron of familial frustration, plots and counterplots, and a peel-the-layers sense that these people are all quite dreadfully messed up and miserable. As all hell finally breaks loose we’re treated to a series of action set pieces slightly more grounded in reality than one would expect, and it’s all the more effective for the restraint. (“House of Flying Daggers,” by comparison, becomes so completely absurd in this regard that the dramatic, tragic ending is thoroughly weakened because the audience’s suspension of disbelief is trampled beyond repair.)
In the meantime there’s plenty of good performances and outstanding costumes and sets to gaze upon. Seriously, this is a lavishly gorgeous film that you could run with the sound and subtitles off just for the sake of feasting on the eye candy. Apparently this is the most expensive Chinese feature film to date, and there’s no doubt that every penny of the cost made it to the screen.
If you’re remotely interested in Asian cinema, “Curse” should be on your “to see” list even if you don’t end up purchasing a copy. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and even someone who enjoys these movies as much as I do probably won’t watch it often. We’re not talking about a cheerful and uplifting film, after all, but Chinese actions dramas rarely feature happy endings. Still, this is a better movie sporting more depth than I originally expected, and is definitely worth the time.
I leave you with this parting thought: When in doubt, bet on the assassins with the chain-sickles. Those guys kick ass.