If you have seen director Zhang Yimou?s two previous movies, namely 'Hero' (with Jet Li) and 'House of Flying Daggers', then the chances are quite good that you wouldn?t be all that impressed with his latest effort, 'Curse of the Golden Flower'.
Like its predecessors, 'Curse of the Golden Flower' is set in some mythical feudal China still ruled over by Emperors and feudal lords.
This time it is China, Later Tang Dynasty, 10th Century. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou).
His pretext is to celebrate the holiday with his family but, given the chilled relations between the Emperor and the ailing Empress (Gong Li), this seems disingenuous. For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit liaison. Feeling trapped, Prince Wan dreams of escaping the palace with his secret love Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor's daughter.
As is to be expected, 'Curse of the Golden Flower' boasts 'Matrix'-style fighting scenes coupled with gorgeous photography and luxuriant production designs and costumes ? even if the primary colour Oriental look and feel is sometimes garish and lacks the visual panache of 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon'.
And except for some spectacular and way over-the-top CGI battle scenes towards the end, 'Curse of the Golden Flower' tones down on the one-on-one martial arts fighting scenes. (We do however get some sickle-wielding bad-ass Ninja warriors who magically descend on ropes as if from nowhere.) Instead 'Curse' prefers to focus on its plot, which is a bit of problem, as one critic had it right when he pronounced the film to be ?more Aaron Spelling?s 'Dynasty' than Tang Dynasty?.
The plot is a melodramatic affair of daytime soap-style family secrets, betrayals and histrionic revelations. Some of the actors seem to realise that they are actually in a soap opera ? even if it is a lusciously-mounted and expensive one ? and play it exactly like that. Or maybe they just thought that, if they didn?t overplay things, they'd simply get lost in front of all the huge sets.
At some point the revelation of all the dark family secrets (some of which are pretty easy to guess at) gets a bit much and it feels as if you?re perpetually watching those scenes in which Scooby and the gang unmasks the villain.
Ultimately, spectacular production designs and giant CGI battles can?t really disguise 'Curse of the Golden Flower's soap opera plot and often hammy acting. Still, fans of the genre would want to check it out.