The Curse of the Golden Flower

reviewed by R. Miles Mendenhall

I only twigged to the wuxia style of Chinese Martial Arts films after Zhang Yimou's "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" back in the late nineties. Actually before that I just thought of people being able to fly and run up walls as "Chinese Kung Fu Movie" hyperbole, but CTHD let me know it was its own genre. "Curse of the Golden Flower" is another in his series of high budget, internationally released wuxia that started with CTHD. And it's one of the good ones. Stop reading now if you don't like this genre of films.

My post film comment was, "It sucks to be an Imperial soldier!" Talk about arrow/spear/sword fodder.

This is an epic family dysfunction fight story. The Tang Dynasty court is tricked out in florid pinks, fuchsias, greens, red, yellow and blue day-glo colors that are truly hallucinatory. The story line deals with greed, betrayal, love, hate, ambition, intrigue and their brutal consequences and is positively Shakespearean, if the Bard's histories and tragedies are the focus.

Gong Li is once again ravishing and translucent. Chow Yun Fat is hard to recognize as the Emperor, partly due to his costume, partly due to how he immerses himself into this character who is a master of realpolitik.

There is less wuxia flying in this one. But the black clad, sickle wielding ninja-like demon assassins take zip line descents to a whole new level of intensity. Those guys really creeped me out!

The emphasis on Chinese Herbal medicine in this film looked pretty authentic, for those not already familiar it might serve as a basic introduction. And yes, the herbal tea in the prescription I once tried was the most foul, bitter brew I've ever tasted since sampling the iodine in my parents medicine cabinet when I was all of seven years old. So the Empresses veiled disgust when drinking her bi-hourly medicine is reality based.

A note on the fashions of the courtesans. The low cut bodice that all of the women wear is apparently historically accurate for the period. It was interesting to me that Chinese women's fashion preceded European styles by a good thousand years!

I suspect the actual Chinese title is "The Curse of the Golden Chrysanthemum" but that chrysanthemum wouldn't fit on marquees and posters. The action takes place in the lead up to the day of the Chrysanthemum Festival, which appears to be a celebration of earthly fertility and the joys of Spring. Take note of the court heralds who walk around announcing the hours of the day and call out epigrams which emphasize Confucian values. I liked that the difference of Chinese culture is portrayed here.

"Golden Flower" worked for me. On many different levels, the psychological struggle between family members was as complex and intense as any I've seen. And the visuals and plot development surprises blew me away in this fevered dream of the consequences of bad communication skills and ambition gone sour.

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