Saturday, December 23, 2006

Curse of the Golden Flower

Punting another bunch of reviews. Other projects, like work, have sucked up a whole bunch of my time and I haven't gotten to write nearly as much of this as I would like. --sigh--

Without much further ado, because I've got Christmas shopping to finish and wrapping to do, the review:

Curse of the Golden Flower (Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 December 2006 at Landmar Kendall Square #2 (Preview)

Those coming to Curse of the Golden Flower expecting a martial arts epic akin to director Zhang Yimou's previous wuxia films, Hero and House of Flying Daggers, may well be disappointed. A relatively short amount of time is spent on fighting, but that time has tremendous import because of the film's art-house pedigree: Zhang is working with long-time leading lady Gong Li for the first time in ten years, and that's almost all the film needs.

Gong Li plays the Empress in this film set predominately in the Forbidden City during the Tang Dynasty. She is the second wife of the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat); a lover to his oldest son, Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye); and mother of First Brother Jai (Jay Chou), who has just returned from three years at the frontier, and Second Brother Yu (Qin Junjie), who seeks more responsibilities. Ten days ago, the Emperor instructed the court physician (Ni Dahong) to have his daughter (and Wan's lover) Chan (Man Li) secretly add black fungus to the Empress's anemia medicine. The formulation will destroy the Empress's mental faculties within two months. The Empress can already see the poison's effects, though, and has set her own plans for revenge into place - if her designs are correct, her son will be Emperor in mere days, after the Chrysanthemum Festival.

It's perfectly clear that Gong Li is going to be this film's central attraction form the start, even as the ornate and colorful production design threatens to swallow her and the rest of the cast. She carries herself like royalty, acting as though the legions of servants that follow her everywhere are her due, even as she relaxes when alone with the princes. The character never verbally acknowledges the tremor in her hand, but the reactions that play across the actress's face are captivating: There's some embarrassment, because an Empress cannot be allowed to show weakness, but also frustration and anger. What's most impressive is how Li makes us believe in the Empress as calculating but also passionate. There's fierce, angry intelligence on display when she plots and reveals her secrets, but also genuine care for her princes. The performance is riveting; Li makes the Empress a compelling monster.

The rest, as always, at HBS.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The most expensive Asian movie so far, too much luxury and beauty. It has amazing design and enourmous actor and actress. The story develop weel enough