Friday, December 22, 2006

curse of the golden flower

Chow Yun Fat as Emperor Ping in Curse of the Golden FlowerZhang Yimou (imdb) garnered critics’ praise with his nuanced historical dramas (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern and The Story of Qiu Ju) and then secured wider audiences with his martial arts epics (Hero and House of Flying Daggers). With Curse of the Golden Flower (official site, press site) he returns to the style that made him China’s foremost director without forsaking his interest in creating legendary action sequences.

Curse of the Golden Flower is set 10th century during the Tang Dynasty. Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly to the Imperial Palace with his second son (Jay Chou) to join the rest of his family for the important Chrysanthemum Festival. The Palace, recreated in stunning color and grandeur, is home to Empress Phoenix (Gong Li), the Crown Prince Wan (Ye Liu) and the Emperor’s third and youngest son (Qin Junjie). However, the beauty of the Palace and the lavish preparations for the Chrysanthemum Festival cannot conceal the trouble within the family

The plot is captivating. Zhang Yimou’s adaptation of a famous Chinese story unfolds with Shakespearean or Sophoclean drama. The costumes and sets are stunning. Their vivid color, detail and scale are almost indescribable. The visual effects are amazing. More than 1000 extras were employed and the wire tricks are unlike anything ever attempted. But, what makes Curse of the Golden Flower a must-watch film are the performances from Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat.

Chow Yun Fat developed his international reputation projecting power with a gun in stylish gangster films like John Woo’s The Killer, Hard-Boiled and A Better Tomorrow. Under Zhang Yimou’s direction, he shows that his immense acting abilities have only increased. Every movement and expression conveys the force of Emperor Ping’s resolve.

Gong Li rose to stardom together with Zhang Yimou (with whom she had been romantically linked) in Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern and The Story of Qiu Ju. They have not made a movie together since To Live, and this actress/director reunion was highly anticipated. It does not disappoint, as Gong Li gives the Empress a strength that matches her husbands. Despite her period costumes that accentuates her curves, it is her eyes that the viewer can’t stop watching.

Curse of the Golden Flower opened today in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I highly recommended it. Distributor Sony Picture has scheduled a full US release for January 12.

Gong Li as Emperess Phoenix in Curse of the Golden Flower