Now that director Zhang Yimou had international success with his previous movies Hero and House Of The Flying Daggers, he was able to win old Asian actor stars for his newest production: Gong Li, who we have last seen next to Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx in the Miami Vice movie as well as Chow Yun Fat, who is known for his roles in John Woo‘s classic action movies and through Ang Lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Curse Of The Golden Flower tells the story of emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat) and empress Phoenix (Gong Li), who try to finish each other off through various methods. Like in a game of chess follows twist after twist, and as time passes, the audience understands more and more about the connections of the two as well as their three children.
While the empress was never able to win the heart of the emperor and thus lives in sadness since years, the first wife of the emperor is seeking revenge. Everyone uses the children to follow their each interests, they are used by the mighty ones like warriors, not like their own breed. The story is too confusing and difficult to write down, but works quite well as a storyline in the movie.
Who is expecting a big martial arts epic – what the beautiful trailer is promising – will be hugely disappointed. It‘s not like there are no battles at all, but Zhang Yimou simply gives them much less attention than in his two previous works. Strangely the first battle sequence is the most interesting one, because it shows how far the emperor is ahead of his enemies in a fighting and thinking sense.
Yimou pays most attention to his characters; particularly Gong Li gets in regular intervals the chance to show her current emotions in close-ups. That gets boring after a while, even the usually incredibly charismatic Chow Yun Fat doesn‘t make big waves with his acting role as the emperor. Worst by far is the musician Jay Chou, who’s acting skills are just sad. Casting him for this movie has obviously a commercial background.
To praise is the extremely detailed set design as well as the clothing: What splendid colors! What magnificent settings! The movie is truly sugar for the eyes. Also interesting is the quite erotic way that the breasts of all women are shown in this movie, as China actually is a quite prudish country. But the gorgeous palace is also a problem, as you see enough of it after a while. There is only one other location where a small part of the movie takes place. Less is more. The score is calm and doesn‘t get the slow movie going any faster.
Curse Of The Golden Flower is a interesting movie which gives a lot of insight into a Chinese palace of a thousand years ago, and it has a great, surprising though sad ending. Let‘s say it once more: Do not expect a martial arts action movie. It seems like Yimou wanted to create a drama and simply added some fighting sequences – maybe he better should have decided for one genre to go with.