Director: Zhang Yimou
Most of the press surrounding the latest film from master director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern) dealt less with the plot of the Curse of the Golden Flower and more regarding the fact that it was the first cinematic reunion in over a decade between Yimou and former flame, muse and lead actress in some of his highest regarded films, Gong Li. Li is luminous in Yimou’s visually awe-inspiring and passionately executed Shakespearean tinged epic tragedy (check out the opening five minutes for a mere glimpse of the intricacies and teamwork involved in all aspects from art and production design to cinematography and direction) based on the play by Yu Cao. Although set during the era of the Tang Dynasty, the film is similarly themed and will attract fans of The Lion in Winter as we are introduced to the Emperor (Chow Yun Fat from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), his ailing wife (Gong Li) and their three sons, who engage in diabolical schemes, secrets, and plans for a coup during the brief period before the Chrysanthemum Festival (where the film received its name). By using the same feudal setting (which occurred for 2,000 years in China) of the economically prosperous Tang Dynasty, Yimou is able to expertly illustrate the male domination and female subjugation faced by the population of the time to great effect that will definitely anger and intrigue modern viewers. Along with way Yimou found inspiration (as he shared in the DVD’s behind the scenes feature) in numerous Chinese proverbs that he used as a backdrop to the goings on such as: “gold and jade on the outside; rot and decay on the inside,” and “the higher you get, the lonelier you are” in order to allay the darkness behind the majestic beauty of the royal family tragically torn apart by betrayal and secrets. While the film does feature Yimou’s signature and audacious inclusion of highly stylized martial arts (witnessed in Hero and Daggers), the film which concludes in a mercilessly bloody fashion, is most notable for the sheer artistry involved on a purely aesthetic level as Flower reveals the authentic Tang Dynasty set (ambitiously constructed on a Beijing soundstage) including vibrant colors of gold and red, ornate crystals and elaborate decorations along with extravagant period costumes that were so true to the time that some of the gold portions weighed nearly sixty pounds. The film, while not as intimate as some of his more neorealist features (Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, The Road Home) or as bewitching and engrossing as House of Flying Daggers, will delight Li and Yimou’s loyal fans and those who simply enjoy history and art but it does come with a warning that it is not for the squeamish.