Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Curse of the Golden Flower

Directed by Zhang Yimou and screenplay by Yimou, Wu Nan, and Bian Zhihong from a story by Wang Bin, Curse of the Golden Flower is the story of an empress who conspires with her son to lead a revolt against the emperor after learning about the emperor’s desire to get rid of her. The film is an epic set in ancient China that is inspired by Cao Yu’s 1934 play Thunderstorm that explores the dynamic of family and betrayal. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, and Qin Junjie. Curse of the Golden Flower is a lavish yet exhilarating film from Zhang Yimou.

The film revolves around a royal family in ancient China as it prepares for an annual festival to take place. Yet, there is discord in this family led by Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat) as he returns from a military campaign with his son Prince Jai (Jay Chou) while Ping has left specific instructions into treating Empress Phoenix (Gong Li) who has been ill as she has to drink a special medicine. Yet, she becomes suspicious about the medicine’s contents as she believes she is being poisoned while is having an affair with her stepson in Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye) who is the Emperor’s favorite son. Still, the Empress and Prince Jai conspire to stage a coup against the Emperor for his actions that also involves secrets relating to the Imperial Doctor’s family. With everyone conspiring against one another, there is still the young Prince Yu (Qin Junjie) lurking around as he observes all that is happening.

The film’s screenplay explores the dynamic of this very dysfunctional family where everyone has to serve the Emperor yet they’re being mistreated for his own reasons to maintain his role as Emperor. Prince Jai’s discovery of what is happening to his mother becomes his motivation to rebel against his father in secrecy while there is also a lot that is lurking around in the film’s first half. Notably as Crown Prince Wan is having an affair with the Imperial Doctor’s daughter Jiang Chan (Li Man) as she is hoping to have a life outside of the palace. Another character that plays a key part in the film’s first half is the Imperial Doctor’s wife (Chen Jin) who has a grudge towards the Emperor as she helps out the Empress while is one of the few that knows a dark secret that could impact the entire royal family.

While the first half of the script is all about various people planning the coup as well as its motivations. The film’s second half becomes a much more adventurous feature where there’s revelations unveiled as well as the kind of actions that the Emperor is doing. The third act is about this attempted coup on the night an annual festival that is to take place that involves a golden flower that is a symbol of the family’s coat. Yet, it reveals that Emperor’s words about family harmony are really a façade considering the discord that he created in his family.

Zhang Yimou’s direction is definitely extravagant in the way he presents the film as not just an epic but also a family drama with an air of suspense that looms throughout the film. Utilizing lots of stylish tracking shots with some elaborate crane set-ups and stylish action scenes. Yimou creates a film that is about people conspiring against one another as if it’s a game of who can outwit who. Still, it’s a world where it’s all about people serving the royal family where there’s lots of shots that involve many extras who do their duty where Yimou puts a lot of attention to detail of where they should be in the frame and such. While there are still some intimate moments in the framing, it is all about the drama that is unfolding in these lavish settings. The action sequences are presented with a large degree of style as does the film’s climatic coup that involves a horde of extras and some visual effects to establish the vast power of this rebellion. Overall, Yimou creates a very engaging and mesmerizing film about betrayal and dark secrets.

Cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding does excellent work with the film’s very colorful photography from the lighting schemes and atmosphere in some of the film’s interior settings to the broad look of the palace hall exteriors as well as some scenes set in night. Editor Cheng Long does brilliant work with the film‘s editing from some stylish jump-cuts in some of the film‘s action scenes to some stylish rhythmic cuts to play out some of its suspense and dramatic moments. Production designer Huo Tingxiao and supervising art director Zhao Bin do spectacular work with the film‘s presentation of the palace interiors that are colorful and full of style along with some scenes in the palace exterior halls to present its extravagance.

Costume designer Yee Chung Man does amazing work with the costumes from the design of the robes as well as the look of the uniforms of the guards as it all plays to that attention to detail that Yimou wanted. Visual effects supervisors Angela Barson and Frankie Chung do terrific work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects for some scenes involving the weapons of the Emperor‘s secret guards as well as some of the scenes in the film‘s climatic battle scene. Sound designer Tao Jing does superb work with the sound from the way swords clang to some of the smaller moments to play out that sense of atmosphere that occurs in the palace. The film’s music by Shigeru Umebayashi is wonderful for its mixture of intricate Chinese string music to play out the drama that is mixed in with some lush string arrangements while it also features some bombastic moments to play out some of its suspense and drama including the film’s climax.

The film’s cast is incredible as it features a terrific small performance from Ni Dahong as the Imperial Doctor who is unaware of all of this conspiracy. Chen Jin is wonderful as the Imperial Doctor’s wife who comes to the palace in secrecy to unveil something for the Empress as it relates to a grudge she has towards the Emperor. Li Man is very good as the Imperial Doctor’s daughter Chan who is in love with Crown Prince Wan as she deals with all of the chaos that surrounding the conspiracies that is going on. Qin Junjie is excellent as the youngest prince of family in Prince Yu as the one person the family seems to overlook as he lurks in the shadows to find out what is happening as he feels neglected by everyone including his brothers. Liu Ye is superb as Crown Prince Wan as a young man conflicted in his feelings for both the Empress and Chan while dealing with the expectations that is set upon by his father.

Jay Chou is great as Prince Jai who learns about what his father has done as he tries to defend his mother’s honor by helping her stage a coup in order to set things right for the family. Gong Li is amazing as Empress Phoenix as a woman who is slowly losing her sanity due to the medicine she’s drinking as she tries to stage a coup against her husband while carrying dark secrets that could shake up the entire royal family. Finally, there’s Chow Yun-Fat in a brilliant performance as Emperor Ping as a man who is very shady in his façade as he presents himself as a man of honor but is really a much darker individual who wants to maintain control of his empire.

Curse of the Golden Flower is a phenomenal film from Zhang Yimou that features superb performances from Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, and Jay Chou. The film is definitely an epic that lives up to its grand visual style while supporting with a strong story of betrayal and discord. It’s also a film that features some of Yimou’s finest moments in terms of creating a visual spectacle that involves lots of extras and a grand battle scene. In the end, Curse of the Golden Flower is a marvelous film from Zhang Yimou.

Zhang Yimou Films: (Red Sorghum) - (Codename Cougar) - (Ju Dou) - (Raise the Red Lantern) - (The Story of Qiu Ju) - (To Live) - (Shanghai Triad) - (Keep Cool) - Not One Less - (The Road Home) - (Happy Times) - (Hero) - House of Flying Daggers - Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles - A Simple Noodle Story - (Under the Hawthorn Tree) - (The Flowers of War) - Coming Home (2014 film) - The Great Wall (2016 film) - (Shadow (2018 film)

© thevoid99 2013

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