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71 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Recalling the critical reviews of "Curse of the Golden Flower" upon its release, I seem to remember a pretty split decision. There were those that proclaimed the film a tawdry and violent melodrama while others declared it a beautiful epic. Well, in all fairness, it is a beautiful, yet tawdry, excessively violent melodramatic epic. And I mean that in all the best ways! Chinese director Zhang Yimou has put together an eye-popping spectacle of sets, costumes, and effects--complete with his customary flair for dreamlike action sequences and an astonishing color palette.

Telling a soapy tale of dysfunction within Emperor Ping's clan circa The Tang Dynasty (928 A.D.), "Curse" has all the lurid ingredients of a modern-day potboiler. There are illicit affairs, murderous schemes, generational secrets, and gruesome acts of violence. Similar to the setup of "The Lion in Winter," "Curse" brings the Ping family together and lets them attack each other with a refreshingly unhinged viciousness. But while "Lion's" carnage was largely verbal, no such claim can be made with this film. With elements of "King Lear" firmly in place, the pace of "Curse" accelerates so rapidly--you know the characters are headed for disaster.

Central to the remarkable cast is the gorgeous Gong Li as the Empress. As the catalyst of most of the film's action, Li is the film's most pivotal performer. The female center of this "Flower" (which includes Chow Yun Fat as her husband and their three sons/heirs), Li practically devours the role. Full of passion, rage, lust, and plenty of secrets--she has never been given a showier role and definitely rises to the occasion. The performances are so good, so alive, you want to stick with the tale to the bitter end. And no matter how outrageous this film can get (and the madcap finale certainly pushes conventional sensibilities), it is always grounded with the actors.

Forget Shakespeare's most violent tragedies, "Curse" sports a body count that even the Bard would surely envy. Not since the wickedly over-the-top killing spree during the finale of DiPalma's "Scarface" has a movie devolved into such an unabashed show of bloody lunacy. Ridiculous at every turn, the film succeeds by embracing its excesses. The final showdown left me marveling at the staged choreography and laughing at the inspired, yet insane, debauchery. I won't contend that "Curse" is an artistic masterwork that rivals Yimou's previous films "House of Flying Daggers" and "Hero"--but I will say that it is massive entertainment. A frantic, blood-soaked opera of lust and vengeance (with no apologies), I loved "Curse of the Golden Flower." KGHarris, 11/07.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2007
Outstanding! Incredible cinematography, exceptionally ornate sets, very appropriate and well-done music, academy award-level acting, I keep trying to come up with more superlatives to use for the movie! I thoroughly enjoyed every nanosecond of it. It held my interest so well that I simply could not stop watching it, twice! The sets are exquisitely detailed and opulent, the martial arts used were excellent. It is subtitled, so if you are not accustomed to reading English while trying to pick up on the tonal inflections of the actors you may miss much in their performances...unless of course you speak Mandarin. The plot was Shakespearen in both it's quality and its intricacy. The whole movie centers, and stays focused, on the life of the Imperial family and an upcoming coup within it. One of the other reviews noted that the Imperial physician's wife was having an affair with the Crown Prince, but I think they mis-stated. It was her daughter, Chan, having the affair and the mom became insensed with anger when she found out, since she was mother to both...and they didn't know it. There is so much intrigue and a very complex plot, yet somehow so well-written that I did not find it hard to follow at all.
This is an excellent example of the best of Chinese film-making, and I think an outstanding period piece as well.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2007
I note that an earlier reviewer saw the 'making-of' featurette. and it's

a good intro into peeling away the layers of this quasi-Shakespearean melodrama. There's something dramatists like, the theme of the darkness beneath the beauty.

Slow starting, Director Zhang moves faster and faster telling the tale of unfolding faces (in an asian sense) and the complexities of relationships,

veering every so-often in to soap-operatics. Yet with extravagant graphics/ production qualities and a nice pattern of on-and-off action with teary or sneer-y confrontations and trysts, even the maybe too-dramatic elements work well.

One measure might be that in re-seeing, the layers get more intense and understandable, adding weight to the conflicts; a plus for buyers versus renters.

Now, if only a quality version of RAISE THE RED LANTERN would be released, Zhang Yimou's stature as a world-class director would be rightly, finally, established. With his successes this millennium, it might just happen for the man...
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41 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2007
As depraved and corrupt as the House of Thebes, as morally bankrupt as the Hubbard/Giddens family in Lillian Hellman's "Little Foxes" or George and Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia
Woolf," (all of which this film calls to mind) Zhang Yimou's "The Curse of the Golden Flower," though huge in scale is at it's core an intimate family (albeit a majorly dysfunctional family) drama which unfolds during the Later Tang Dynasty (923-936 AD), a time of corruption, dictatorship and warfare--with a mind-blowing, color-soaked brilliance and an almost insane excess that does over-ripe justice to the passions and intrigues that are raging full throttle inside the palace.
The sinister ensemble cast includes an evil emperor (Chow Yun Fat), his desperate wife (Gong Li), his three wildly contrasting sons and heirs (Liu Ye, Jay Chou and Qin Junjie), the troubled imperial doctor (Ni Dahong) and the doctor's bitter wife (Chen Jin) and naive daughter (Li Man), both of whom have secrets that could destroy an empire.
Though all of the performances are first rate, Gong Li as the pathetic consort to the Emperor and Jay Chou as Prince Jai show us the pain and heartbreak behind all the bravura acting: these are brave performances that not only come from the mind but also from heart and the soul of these performers; a particularly difficult task based on all the grandeur and pomposity surrounding them.
"The Curse of the Golden Flower" is eye-poppingly gorgeous to look at yet Zhang Yimou nonetheless has managed to, in the midst of the thousands of extras, millions of flowers and opulent and decadent costumes, produced a very thoughtful and tragic drama about a family that can't resist its basest impulses and in the process demolishes and destroys itself from within: love exists here but its a love twisted upon itself and dessicated by the bile and vomitus of distrust and depravity.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2007
Rarely have I seen a movie as bursting with luminosity and color as Yimou Zhang's "Curse of the Golden Flower," an eye-popping tale of palace intrigue set in late 10th Century China. Li Gong plays the beautiful Empress Phoenix, who is slowly being poisoned by her husband, the Emperor Ping (Yun-Fat Chow), as punishment for the affair she is having with her stepson and heir-to-the-throne, the Crown Prince Xiang. When she discovers what is being done to her, she enlists the aid of one of her own sons (Ye Liu) to help her carry off a carefully orchestrated coup against his father.

"Golden Flower" has just about everything a historic drama done in the grand operatic style needs to be successful: passion, forbidden love, incest, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, family secrets, and, of course, oodles and oodles of blood-soaked battle sequences that pay homage to the richest traditions of the martial arts (picture to yourself an oriental "Lord of the Rings" to get some idea of the scale and scope of these fight scenes). The melodrama does get a bit out-of-hand from time to time, hitting a peak of silliness long about the last half hour or so of the movie. But the film itself is so visually ravishing and gorgeous to look at that we go along with it even when it's not all that easy to take the story it's telling very seriously.

Prime credit for the movie's success goes to cinematographer Xiaoding Zhao, who has wrought various miracles with his lighting and camera, making the rich and shimmering colors literally pop from the screen in unmatched brilliancy and vibrancy. Equally stunning are the production and costume design by Tingxiao Huo and Chung Man Yee, respectively. It is a tribute to the quality of the actors that they are able to stand out so vividly even amidst such peerlessly sumptuous settings.

Small wonder why this is the most expensive and commercially successful Chinese film ever made.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 17, 2007
`Curse of the Flower' is a gorgeous masterpiece. Filled with the uniform pageantry of The Tang Dynasty (A.D. 928), the layers of beauty are unfolded to reveal the household of the Emperor (Yun Fat) whose dramatic crisis is intimately revealed amidst the busy hive of his kingdom. Treason, incest, and treachery against kin are concretely provided for a drama of Shakespearean proportions. The queen (Empress) of the hive is ailing with what the Emperor believes to be anemia. After ten years of ancient herbal medicine, she is no means closer to a cure. More hemorrhaging is the rivalry amongst the two sons who spar for succession like Cain and Abel. Jai (Jay Chou), the elder, appears like the humble, reluctant successor; while his bitter young rival, Wan (Liu Ye) has a sword to grind with his past and a manipulative lover who has no little influence over him. The poor Emperor, revealed with no clothes, is wise to the point of tempering his judgment amongst poisonous ingratitude. Heavy wears the crown for a man who resiliently defies the Shakespearean line, "Death hath murdered sleep." Suspenseful, the plot lines head for a climax during the Chrysanthemum Festival for which the Empress intricately prepares.

Stylish on every score, 'Curse of the Flower' could have been an overwrought melodrama with not enough substance, but story and décor only bring out the best of one another. Never did I feel like this offering was tainted by trivialities. I neglected this cinematic offering on the suspicion I was going to get an ancient and foreign offering of 'Kill Bill, No. 1' with tiresome martial arts scenes. Judiciously, the dramatic and combat scenes are gorgeously choreographed and timed to meticulous precision without draining the attention span of the audience. The battle scenes are innovative in a way reminiscent of , 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' except with more stunning results. If nothing else, it contrasts new horizons of technical achievement that make 'Matrix' borrowing seem stale.

Intense but expert acting and meticulous craftsmanship combine to make a magnificent epic adventure. 'Curse of the Golden Flower' is a singular achievement for director Yimou Zhang and all involved who assembled an excellent Eastern tragedy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Curse of the Golden Flower is a step up in budget from Zhang Yimou's Hero and House of Flying Daggers, but it's a step back in terms of drama: much that glitters, little that's gold. Set in a palace where everything is a spectacular and highly regimented ritual done on an epic scale, whether it is servants dressing by the hundreds or preparing food and medicine, it focuses on the kind of royal family who make the Plantageneats in The Lion in Winter look like the Waltons. He's poisoning her, she's planning a coup against him and the Crown Prince has gone from an affair with his stepmom to one with his half-sister... Yet for all the poisoning and plotting the problem is that it's rather dull. It never descends into outright boredom, but it doesn't particularly engage for most of the first two thirds.

As usual with Yimou, the moral of the tale is ambiguous: on one level it could be don't go against the natural order, no matter how unfair it seems (father knows best, even if he is poisoning mum), on another it could be know your place no matter how inexplicably cruel you may find the ruling regime. Or it could just be a good old-fashioned tragedy with unhappy endings all round. On a more dramatically successful film maybe the ambiguity wouldn't be so niggling, but with such huge resources thrown at it to such little effect, you feel that it should all add up to SOMETHING.

True, a lot of money has been visibly lavished on the film, but it rarely feels wisely spent. That the corridors of the palace look like they've been designed by a Bombay stallholder with unlimited funds, more garish than opulent, make many of the interiors look more a monument to bad taste than a glittering façade to hide the corruption within. The wonderfully conceived use of colour and design of Hero and House of Flying Daggers here gives way to visual overkill. Forget the golden flower, this definitely suffers from the curse of too much CGi in the final battle as the addition of an increasingly unfeasible number of perfectly synchronized digital extras completely swamp the human element the scene needs to succeed. When the CGi golden army attacks the palace it doesn't really impress as much as it should - the CGi is good enough, but it's also too controlled and uniform, lacking the feeling of spontaneity you get with real extras. Maybe it's just that the look is so overexposed that digital extras seem too much of a cheat to impress the way that going to all the trouble of using the real thing did. After all, when so much is done in the computer, what physical human effort is left to admire?

Nor does the individual fight choreography impress as much as in Yimou's previous films. There is even some surprisingly clumsy editing of mismatched shots in the `smaller' scenes that make you wonder whether Yimou wants to draw attention to them or simply doesn't care enough to finesse them. Perhaps it's telling that the film's most visually effective moment is the massive co-ordinated cleanup operation after the battle as the bodies are dragged away and the palace is quickly restored to normality and that only the film's final scene has the kind of real emotional power that the rest of the film could have done with.

It seems oddly significant that despite the epic scale, only 8 of the cast are credited while the crew, designers, costumers and computer technicians are billed at great length: people really don't seem to be the film's priority. That's sadly reflected in some of the performances. Perhaps it's because the once prolific Chow Yun Fat has worked so little this century that it's genuinely surprising to see how much he's visibly aged as the Emperor. While this is used to some effect, we rarely see why he does what he does, which tends to render him more of a shallow villain when the circumstances really merit. It's certainly hard to see him as the wronged party when his revenge is so ruthless and calculated. But sadly most of the performances are decidedly one-note while the cast wait for their big scenes, with only the female cast making much impression (the film is good on the submissive role women were forced to accept). Yet as good as Jin Chen is as the Emperor's wronged first wife, it's Gong Li who really impresses, and how. As the Empress trying to hold onto her sanity long enough to depose her husband before his poisoned medicine turns her into a living ghost she's remarkably powerful without ever overstating: it's the small details rather than the grand gestures that really count with her. Unfortunately as her stepson and lover, Ye Liu overacts the sensitive angst almost enough to make Nicholas Tse look subtle, yet somehow in their scenes together Gong Li still manages to keep them from sliding away into pure melodrama. Sadly, her efforts are never quite enough to make up for the film's shortcomings.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 1, 2007
Curse of the Golden Flower (Man Cheng Jin Dai Huang Jin Jia) is gorgeous melodrama; a visual feast of scarlet, gold and magenta, of lush set pieces with thousands of characters (computer generated but still impressive), of armies of men wearing yellow, scarlet or iron-colored armor...but melodrama all the same. In Tenth Century China, the Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat), ruthless and malevolent, is slowly poisoning the Empress Phoenix (Gong Li), ruthless and determined, with an extract from a fungus which will drive her insane before she dies. They have three sons. There is the Crown Prince Xiang, somewhat weak, who has been having an intimate affair with his mother for a couple of years. There is the second son, Prince Jie, who is capable and torn between fealty to his father and responsibility to his mother. And there is the youngest son, Prince Chang, scarcely more than a teen-ager, always happy and ready to please, usually ignored by both parents, and a young man who hides his resentments. The Empress knows she is being poisoned and puts into play a plot which will culminate during the Festival of the Chrysanthemum. A violent plot it is, with bloody consequences for everyone.

But does this dysfunctional family with all the plotting and maneuvering really mean anything? Not much, in my view, except as a reason to create wonderful visual images without end, plus a chance to see two outstanding actors, Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat, show why they're so good. There are plenty of confrontations, secrets about first marriages and first wives, sword thrusts and choreographed duels and battles to keep most people happy. I had a grand time, but I was hungry two hours later.

Most likely if this film by Zhang Yimou is remembered in twenty years, it will be because of its production values. The palace settings, despite the dark doings, are vibrant with color; there are bright, multi-hued columns, rugs and walls that virtually scream to be noticed, heavy and ornate costumes and sumptuous details, such as the golden hair-pins Gong Li wears and the small, translucent cup she drinks her poisoned medicine from. The attack by the Chinese equivalent of black-clad ninja warriors on an Imperial outpost in a canyon is great, choreographed action...dozens of these shadowy men rappelling down cliffs, using hooks and cables to slide down from great heights onto the roofs of the compound. In the dusk it looks like clouds of black raptors swooping from the sky. At the imperial palace a great circular pavilion is built looming over the immense square. When the square is filled with yellow chrysanthemums it looks like a vast golden plain. The climatic battle between the two forces on this golden field of chrysanthemum is filled with brightly uniformed men in the thousands, with huge wooden walls rolled into place that sprout spears and slowly move forward while arrows darken the sky. Afterwards, cleaning the square of all the bodies and blood and armor, then replacing the crushed flowers with new chrysanthemums, is nearly as impressive as the battle itself. It's great, engrossing stuff. The one false note was the occasional gymnastic sword play between actors. When you see a middle-aged woman suddenly doing backflips, or an aging emperor sitting on an ornate bench able to ward off blindingly fast front, back and side sword strikes, well, for me, I found myself amused, not amazed.

When one considers the movies Zhang Yimou has given us -- among them Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad, The Road Home, The Story of Qiu Ju -- he gets a free pass from me on this one. It's great fun and not much more, but enjoy.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2007
"Curse of The Golden Flower" is an brilliantly done movie and instantly one of my favorites! If I had to choose between 3 great movies where they don't speak English such as Pan's Labyrinth, Passion of the Christ and this, I pick this. This movie could not have been done better in terms of acting, casting, action, gore, and especially visuals. Lots and lots of gold in the palace. Gong Li and Chow-Yun Fat are perfect as the Emperor and Empress. It never bores, and it's even like something Shakespeare would write set in 928 A.D. in China in the Tang Dynasty. You can optionally watch it in English dubs, but I much rather prefer it in Chinese with English subtitles: The way it's supposed to be heard. When I listened to it in English, it was good, but didn't seem quite suitable to the mouthing of the words, like you'd see in Godzilla. {Which is Japan}. It may seem a bit slow in the middle of the story, but quickly goes on, as the story does not feel rushed at all with an awesome moral at the end. It's never confusing and comes together when it's almost over. The result is absolutely amazing...

Here's an interesting fact: Jay Chou who plays Prince Jai also has a singing career and sings the end credits song. This is only his second movie, and an astounding career turn at that to be starring in such an excellent movie. 10/10 by a long shot.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2007
I liked a lot of things about "Curse of the Golden Flower", especially director Yimou Zhang's brilliant use of color. The very complicated plot involves court intrigue 1000 years ago in feudal China, and one must pay attention because nothing is ever as it seems. The reliable Chow Yun Fat & Gong Li provide a solid base from which the situations arise, and the appearance of Chinese pop star, Jay Chou as Prince Jai, is quite good. Handsome devil! Everything about the film is beautful to look at, thanks to brilliant art direction, cinematography and costumes. The editing, too, is to be commended, not only for giving maximum impact to the grandiose battle scenes but also for keeping the complicated plot coherent. It does, however, take a while for the scene to be set, but once in place, you're in for a treat. DVD extras are fine, with interviews with director, cast, etc. I was entertained, and that's what film is all about.
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