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JSkell Catches The CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER!!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I’m a big fan of this one, and I’ll have my review of it up soon. But for now, I’m pleased to hear what Jskell had to say about it, and about a second viewing of HAPPY FEET. Check it out:

Hey Guys, Just got back from the Curse of the Golden Flower. Another great wuxia entry from Yimou. I've missed three movies I was supposed to see in the past couple of weeks (thanksgiving and all) but I'm gonna get to see a few more soon I think (including maybe LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA this week... or at least I hope. I hear it's better then FLAGS). Oh yeah and Drew. I saw Happy Feet again the other day only this time, it was with an audience of kids. When i wrote my first review I saw it with a few film people and it was easier to dismiss the film and joke in our private setting. This second experience really changed my reaction. I'm not quite sure what it fully is yet, those things take time. It's funny, I really liked what you wrote about the film whereas some people just kind of jump on the massa bandwagon just cause he writes pretty funny stuff. I laughed pretty hard, but that doesn't mean anything he said was right. You both provided some pretty good reaction and talkbalk though. I forwarded both to a lot of people. Thanks again guys! Happy post-turkey day. J-Skell here. Got to see Zhang Yimou's THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER tonight, and here's a review that's a little more spoiler heavy than I'd like (I like zero), but some things had to be touched on. One of the most fascinating things I find about Zhang Yimou's wuxia films is the differences between them seem to provide more of a clue into Zhang Yimou's ideas then the similarities do. A couple people I knew were wondering what another entry (his third in a row) would possibly add to what he hasn't said already. It turns out a lot. First off, THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER is easily the most dramatic of the three films. It focuses on the tumultuous familial relationships of the royal family in the (Chinese empire). Lines are drawn, blood is spilled, and lives are taken. But to get at what makes CURSE different you have to examine the interesting parallels in all three films with use of Eastern story and style versus Western story and style. HERO, I find to be an eastern story told in an eastern way: a direct presentation of philosophies and poetic movements to create art. The entire movie works as a piece of calligraphy (an oft mentioned subject). HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS uses a Western epic star-crossed love story but it is also told in an Eastern way (constant plot twists within the submergence of identity). Meanwhile, CURSE is a western story told in a surprisingly western way. It could come straight out of Greek/Shakespearean tragedy: the broken family with each member vieing for power, the double-crossings, the cruel punishments, and well, the incest. I usually don't spend a lot of time talking about performances in a film as director driven as this, but I was surprised by just how good Chow Yun Fat was. In most eastern films we often get to see the actor's take on inward emotion and preservation of their surface, but that acting style takes on a much more meaty context in Yun Fat's portrayal of the Emperor. He is blood-thirsty, conniving, and ruthless. But he often has to play the part of the ruler, husband and father with a public face without a hint of smarm. The most compelling scenes are those done where he is completely unaffected by the bloodshed in front of him. He uses subtle gestures in those moments, the way he chews his food, the way he keeps his head to the ground, that explore the true nature of his character. It's something I haven't seen from him and it was rather impressive. The bigger story in the performances of this film is certainly Gong Li. CURSE marks a historic reuniting of her creative partnership with Yimou after their very public personal partnership fell apart. One could try to compare the problems of her empress to the emperor with the broken relationship of Yimou and Li, but it really takes no precedence. Gong Li's performance is far more important. She exhibits such opposites in a single moment, personified by her decision to keep… well, doing something that is harmful to here. In these moments she can be terrified and yet courageous, stupid and yet brilliant. It was the kind of performance that was the staple of her early work with Yimou, and hopefully there will be more to see in the future. Needless to say, the film was gorgeous. The color (especially within the palace) bursts off the screen in a matching contrast of intricate designs (compared to the large broad stroke color scheme of HERO). But, this film does a remarkable job of texturing and creating a more visceral experience. Where HERO and DAGGERS seem ponderous and grand in the style, CURSE seems more personal and refined. The events are mostly enclosed into the small halls of the palace where characters are so close that lies and secrets seem to seep through the narrow paper walls. It is here that Yimou captures a great attention to detail. We constantly see every step the servants take to prepare their items for the royal family, so that we go behind the scenes to see the processes of palace in an almost Altman-ish way. It may seem like a small matter, but it really gives the film a sense of layering and a different feel from the previous wuxia entries. CURSE depends much less on action that Yimou's previous films, but it does built up well to create satisfying pieces. What is more interesting is that the action style itself has changed. Yimou cuts much more frequently than in the past, and utilizes heavy sound effects; crunching and clanking, with searing sparks in many close up shots. There are no bent metal weapons and poetic martial arts battles, but fighting and deaths that are slightly more gruesome and tactile. It is a stylistic change that matches the tone of the film, one that I think might play rather well to standard Western audiences. The problem with it is that most martial arts fans loved HERO because it was so traditional and Eastern, which is unfortunately rather rare here. That love is what made DAGGERS seem to be a blander "westernization" to some people (it's not). So will CURSE be viewed as the total western cop-out for Yimou? I don't think so. All three films share an intelligence that rises them above such questions. And THE CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER is proof of Yimou's caliber as a filmmaker. He is an artist that showcases his unique understanding of film language to spin new inventions on his own familiar territory and create seemingly entire different movies with subtle changes. There's also a surprising amount of cleavage in the film… I wasn't expecting that. Enjoy, J-Skell
Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 29, 2006, 3:54 a.m. CST

    si

    by conbarba

    si

  • Nov. 29, 2006, 5:41 a.m. CST

    love it

    by Seph_J

    ... cant wait to catch this VERY soon!!

  • Nov. 29, 2006, 5:45 a.m. CST

    Assuming that the cleavage...

    by Seph_J

    ... is Gong Li's, and its anything as lovely as Zhang Ziyi's ass in Ye Yen (The Banquet), then that alone will be worth the price of admission. Aside from the fact that Yimou is one of the greatest living DIRECTORS of cinema.

  • Nov. 29, 2006, 6:01 a.m. CST

    Totally Agree. It's Great.

    by YND

    Happy to see this review -- I caught the film last night and it's gotta be one of the best things I've seen this year. I don't know why I keep underestimating Zhang Yimou. With HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, I walked in thinking, "This should be pretty" and it knocked me out. Did the same thing with CURSE, and it's even better. It's built on complex emotion (as opposed to the pretty simplistic love stories that are usually at the center of films like these), it tells a big, Shakespearean story without ever being afraid to go over the top (which it does a few times, to great effect) and it's topped off with stunning performances and action scenes. Great film. See it on the biggest screen you can find.

  • Nov. 29, 2006, 7:06 a.m. CST

    Looks better than Hero

    by half vader

    I was so disappointed after loving Yimou's earlier stuff to find Hero just a poor man's Rashomon. This movie though seems to have a couple of things going for it though. Ahem.

  • Nov. 29, 2006, 10:14 a.m. CST

    Get it on...bang a Gong...

    by Osmosis Jones

    ...get it on!

  • Nov. 29, 2006, 11:19 a.m. CST

    Yeah YND

    by J Skell

    Glad you liked it too.

  • Dec. 14, 2006, 12:43 p.m. CST

    Good review BUT...

    by CelestialPudding

    It was a great review and I do agree most of what you said. This movie was dramatic, tense and action packed, which is a lot more than "The Banquet". I found that one a pretentious exercise in looking pretty. It was interesting that you said this film was a much more western story made in a western style. The story is actually adapted from a 1930s (correct me if I'm wrong) play by Cao Yu called "Thunderstorm". Much of the twists and revelations are based on the play which itself was a social commentary of that period. One thing I've noticed about Zhang Yimou's films are his exploration of the plight of women throughout history, whether it be feudalism or socialism. Curse is another of his films which explores this theme and works remarkably well due to his female leads. I have only just seen this movie 2 hours ago and will take a while to digest how I feel about it (hence these semi-incoherent comments). All I can say is that I was definitely kept at the edge of my seat by the storytelling (even tho i knew most of the twists) and there was not a dull moment. SKIP THE BANQUET AND SEE THIS INSTEAD.