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"Curse of the Golden Flower"

Directed by Zhang Yimou.
Written by Zhang Yimou.  Based on a play by Cao Yu.
Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou and Liu Ye.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  12/20/06


Here's the bottom line with "Curse of the Golden Flower", brought to us by the same team that gave us "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers":  Families in 900 A.D. were just as fucked up as they are today.

In this epic, we get family turmoil so fucked up even I had to laugh by the time all of the family secrets are played out, but let's start with the facts.  Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat) is unhappily married to Empress Phoenix (Gong Li, more stunning as she ages, in my humble opinion); Empress Phoenix--who is NOT the natural birthmother of Ping's three sons--is sleeping with Ping's eldest son Xiang (Liu Ye).  Xiang is fucking the doctor's daughter Chan (Man Li).  Chan is the chief servant of Phoenix, and Chan is feeding Phoenix a poisonous black fungus that is slowing killing Phoenix...on orders of Ping.  Ping's middle son Jie (Jay Chou) is the only true warrior son in the family, and as such, even though he is not Ping's favorite, is the one who will lead his country one day as the lead heir to the throne.  The youngest son, Yu (Qin Junjie), also wants to be trained in the ways of the sword, but Ping has sworn him off as the little man-bitch of the family and will have no part in training him for battle.

Oh, and don't worry--it gets even MORE fucked up as the movie runs its course.

Based on a play, "Curse of the Golden Flower" is more period-piece-epic than swords-and-skirts action/adventure least, for the first 90 minutes of its running time.  The costumes are just as exotic as the costumes from director Zhang Yimou's previous efforts; the sets look ridiculously exotic and the stunning number of extras--seriously, this doesn't look like CGI at all, we're talking HUNDREDS of extras--makes this puppy one of Asia's biggest productions ever.  Watching everyone make very pointed efforts to look like royalty is pure bliss; I was surprised at how content I was to be sitting in what appeared to be an action film and having no action for nearly the whole film.

Then, people start dying.  Fast, bloody, violent deaths.  And, by the thousands, until almost everyone is dead.

The violence is more eye-popping than it was in "Hero", for sure; it was more PG-13-style.  Here, people get scythes through the chest, or multiple arrow deaths (this film has the most ridiculous arrows-of-rain sequences in history, book it), or death by belt, which was a mix of surreal and pure comedy.  But, it fits the build-up that director Yimou clearly waits to drop on you by giving us small hints that bodies are gonna start dropping by the time this puppy is over.  All the while, style points are ever-present; the visuals are so cool that you don't mind watching women and children get the beatdowns you knew were coming.

The film's not as interesting as the plot/pacing of "Hero"; the performances by the leads are predictably great and the extras seem to be working overtime in this one.  (Does any race of people do the "backward shuffle out of room on command" move better than Asians?  Maybe that's racist, but seriously, nobody seems to be able to bow their heads and move quickly out of a room better than a 45-year-old Asian guy.)  Some of the dialogue during the run of death sequences is badly misplaced; this brought laughter from the audience when there should have been stunned silence.

Still, "Curse of the Golden Flower" makes me forget that ridiculous ending from "House of Flying Daggers" and Yimou and I are back on the up-and-up.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09