Saturday, May 19, 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower

Zhang Yimou | 2006 | 114 min | Hong Kong + China

Zhang Yimou has long made films in traditional Chinese settings with themes that echo issues in contemporary China. He relies on heavy use of metaphor to get his messages across. On the surface some of the metaphors may seem trite, but they served Yimou well in his years as a young director attempting to critique China when the country was extremely quick to censor dissent.

Although Yimou has become celebrated for his work in China + around the world, this movie leads one to believe little has changed for anyone critical of the government. Set in 10th century China, Curse follows the Imperial Family of the Emperor (a nearly unrecognizable Chow Yun Fat) in the days leading up to a massive festival + as plots for rebellion are taking shape. Rather than deliver a straight-up martial arts flick, Yimou concentrates on the tensions in family and relationship caused by a strict caste system. The performances are as restrained as their world forces them to be. Always there are glimmers of rage + desire under the surface of these characters. Again this film is a fairly clear stand-in for contemporary China + is bathed in methaphor. Hints: the medicine isn't really medicine + the flowers aren't really flowers!

All of the lavish moves of a epic movie are saved for the massive battle scenes + the gorgeous set design. The entire movie looks like it has been carved out of rainbows. The fight scenes are few, but are well paced + terrifically executed (NINJAS!). The bulk of the negative reviews this film received are due to the lack of constant chop socky action, I'm sure. It draws more on his former work like Raise the Red Lantern than his more recent success on pictures like House of Flying Daggers. This is not the best recommendation for a martial arts movie, but it is a great film in it's own right.

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