Tonight I was at Warner Brothers for a screening of House of the Crouching Hero, Flying Flower Curse, or whatever. Actually, I kid. It was Zhang Yimou’s latest Chinese epic, Curse of the Golden Flower. Yimou, who had done Hero and House of Flying Daggers, brings us back to China in the late 10th Century, where a power play is about to take place on the eve of the Chrysanthemum Festival between Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat) and Empress Phoenix (Gong Li). The nitty gritty of the story is, Ping has been suspicious of Phoenix’s naughty relationship with his son (and her step-son), Crown Prince Xiang (Liu Ye), and has been slowly poisoning her over the past ten days. Phoenix is on to Ping’s plan, and is planning to overthrow Ping’s thrown – but put Prince Jie (Chou Jay) in charge. Oh, did I mention that Xiang is meanwhile messing around with the daughter of the Imperial Physician, who just may or may not be his half-sister? Such drama!!
In fact, the dramatic twists and turns are so overdone that you’d think you were watching a Chinese period soap-opera. Which, for all intents and purposes, you are. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some kick-ass action set pieces, which there are. Ping’s secret phalanx of black swathed assassins move with ferocity and viciousness, and are cool to watch. When the big battle between Phoenix’s forces and Ping’s army clash, it’s quite a visual treat. Actually, the whole movie is a visual treat: the color palette is incredible vivid, and the cinematography is excellent. The camera swoops smoothly through hallways and courtyards with grace, and this is basically an eye candy film, since the acting and dialogue and plot aren’t gonna satisfy.
Another thing that doesn’t satisfy – at least in relation to this film – is Shigeru Umebayashi’s score. Heavy handed and over the top, the score is full of loud choir, adding unnecessary weight to already over dramatic story and dialogue. On it’s own, it might be interesting to listen to, but within the context of the film, it felt like a “notice me! notice me!” cry for attention. Disappointing, to be sure.
After the awesomeness that was Hero, Curse of the Golden Flower will feel like a major letdown: an overdone melodrama, while pretty to look at, that is best served on DVD.
Side note: Dick Miller was sitting near me in the theater, and I had to say “hi”. He’s too awesome!