Thursday, February 08, 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

Curse of the Golden Flower (Zhang Yimou, 2006)
Mandarin Title: Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia

Hourly announcements by uniformed men of astrological indications and accompanying significant virtues drown the whispered plots and familial scandals being discussed behind closed doors. The emperor (Chow Yun-fat) prides himself of his ideal family; the model family for the rest of Tang dynasty China. Three sons (the crown prince Wan (Ye Liu), middle child Jai (Jay Chou), and youngest eager beaver (Qin Junjie), a lovely wife (Gong Li), and the memories of a previous wife (and mother of the crown prince) --- it's a lovely family portrait. However, this seemingly perfect ancient Chinese family may in fact be related to the dysfunctional suburban families of this cinematic generation. The emperor is secretly poisoning his wife's hourly medicines with Persian black fungus; the eldest son is having an illicit affair with his stepmom while also shagging the court doctor's lovely daughter (Li Man); the second child is plotting a coup d'etat; and the third son feels too giddy and satisfied to be really satisfied with his place in the world.

It's a labyrinthine ploy. Endless dialogues and revelations inch their way to our cinematic consciousness. Once the pattern is established with daring strides of make-believe narrative, we witness something I can accurately compare to a Jackson Pollock painting --- the film feels like paints were conveniently thrown to a canvass and luckily, the questionable experimentation worked.

Zhang's film does not only feel like a Pollock painting, it also looks like one. The marvelous sets, the intricately created costumes, and the astounding amount of extras commissioned to play a body in a crowd are testaments to Zhang's flourish and filmmaking capabilities. Yet unlike the color-coordinated stories of Hero (2002), or the emotionally apt visual palette of House of Flying Daggers (2004), it felt like Zhang foregone all notion of restraint. Curse of the Golden Flower is afflicted with psychedelia; watching it sober from the effects of drugs (although I haven't tried doing so) might take away the substance from Zhang's rationale in making the interiors of a majestic Forbidden Palace-esque monument look like the inside of a pack of melted M&M's chocolates.

Why exactly Zhang would lash out aesthetically with Curse of the Golden Flower remains to be a mystery to me. Probably, because he can. Despite the film's overly extravagant, too-beautiful-it's-a-bit-ugly, insanely colorful depiction of Shakespearean melodrama, there's a sense of artful pageantry to the excesses of Zhang's cinema. Overflowing bosoms, ritualistic formalities of court life, golden courtyards --- all these just relate to Zhang's visual pastiche and believe it or not, the aesthetic madness is quite addicting.

And the summation of Zhang's excesses is the climactic coup d'etat, where crimson colored soldiers fight it off against a horde of black-clad guardsmen against the backdrop of golden chrysanthemum carpets which are occasionally being sprayed with dark red splashes of blood. It's appartently a mixture of CGI and a cast of thousands of extras; but onscreen, it looks ridiculously stunning (even slightly political; the sequence did remind me of Tiananmen riots). Excessive it may be, but Curse of the Golden Flower is nothing short of an achievement.


Lilit Reyes said...

wow, you're such a good writer. I adore your reviews.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Lilit,

How are you doing nowadays?

Anonymous said...

Didn't like Golden Flower. I just felt that its storyline was convolutedly soapy as its sumptuous visuals devoid of integrity. While eye candy, it remained impractical a place, out-of-this-world fantasy, and , well, just figuratively empty.

Just an observation, Oggs. If you aim be a critic, one who holds his own, stop your connections with other critics, because it gets in the way. It annoys readers when almost 95 per cent of the time you and Noel Vera agree. Get out of the shadow, man!


Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Cindy,

Can't help about what you said though. It just turns out that way, and there will come a time that critics will tend to agree on a certain thing, and disagree on other --- it just so happens that nowadays, Noel and I agree on certain things.

I liked Passion of the Christ more than Noel does. I absolutely adore The Lord of the Rings and Noel thinks its junk. I think Erik Matti is a better filmmaker than what Noel thinks he is. I loathed Blood Diamond, Noel thinks its okay entertainment. That's just a few though.

But thanks for the observation --- although it'll hurt my integrity more if I tried to curve my way just to be unique (I'm not one of those I'll hate this critically adored film just to make a mark; or I'll find something great in this piece of shit film just to make a mark).

Reinard Santos said...

Nice review. I just saw this last night and the ending leaves me a bit cold (not the ending I was expecting). Man Li is hot.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks reinard,

I liked the ending; a fitting closure to all the familial drama and the beautifully choreographed violence (take that, Snyder). But yeah, the ending does leave you a bit bewildered and at a loss.

sammish said...

Ever since Yimou has turned to HongKong for film making and exalerated special effects set on some fairy tales stories of the Orient, his movies have become rubbish to the core. I know he needs the money to live big in some fancy houses in Shanghai. It is really sad. But I understand his move.

Anonymous said...

Have you watched Frozen Flower?
It's a Korean film... I would like to read your review about it. thank You!