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Saturday, July 28, 2007

No soul is the Curse of this Golden Flower

There are films that appeal for its story line while others impress with the performances. Some simply blow your mind with their riveting visual palette.

Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower, with its multi-million dollar budget, works its magic on the eyes with breathtaking splendour and fierce combat scenes.

This is both good and bad news. As much as your eyes soak in all the awe-inspiring beauty, the costume drama fails to touch an emotional chord.

Curse of the Golden Flower doesn't have a linear story, as such. The narrative is exactly the way the film's characters are -- crafty and dubious.

Set in 10th century Tang Dynasty of China, the film chronicles the time of Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat) and Empress Phoenix (Gong Li) around the Chrysanthemum festival.

Their interactions, though cordial, are bitingly frosty and suggest mysterious undercurrents of resentment.

In sub text, it is mentioned that the Emperor isn't of noble birth. A high-ranking captain, he dumped his first wife to marry the young and beautiful Princess of Liang. The Empress is no moral beacon either, having indulged in a forbidden fling with her stepson, Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye) for a good three years.

While Yan is now fooling around with the Imperial doctor's daughter Chan (Li Man), a clearly envious Empress is forced to swallow a daily dose of a weird-tasting medicine (for her anemia), on her husband's order. She eventually suspects him of poisoning her. Phoenix pours her grievances to her compassionate middle son, Jai (Jay Chou).

A series of rousing events, featuring spectacular fight sequences (shot superbly by cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding), leads to unexpected tragedies and startling revelations.

Revealing any more synopsis would spoil the twisted surprises that spring up in the due course of the film. Unless you are a Chinese period drama aficionado and have seen too many of this kind, you will be truly alarmed.

In the past, director Yimou's gift for magnificent imagery was complemented with layered, even if unpredictable, representation of the human side. He succeeded in blending the two quite capably in films like The Road Home, Hero and House of Flying Daggers. But in Curse of the Golden Flower, opulence and grandeur takes center stage, almost bullying the protagonists out of the scene.

Even so, Chow Yun Fat shines as the cold, ruthless ruler playing ugly domestic politics with his wife. Gong Li, on her part, is equally lethal as a royal on the verge of losing her mind. And they both look gorgeous in all those sheets of ornate brocade (Yee Chung Man's work with the wardrobe garnered a Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design).

Too bad, the royal soap drama doesn't evoke a single sense of remorse at the death of any of its characters. Their motives remain uncertain, and their actions appear vague and vain.

Finally, for all its exquisite eye candy, Curse of the Golden Flower doesn't have a rich soul. Maybe that's the problem. Or the curse.

Hollywood Gola Rating:

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