Curse of the Golden Flower

Continuing my brief binge of Chinese cinema:

I’ll let you go to Wiki for the plot. Curse of the Golden Flower, Zhang Yimou’s drama focussed on the Imperial family, around 900-something AD China (Tang Dynasty), is an odd beastie: it’s full of poisonings, relationships, cleavage, swords, more cleavage, old flames, a suspiciously young-looking Empress entangled with her stepson, some absolutely beautiful cinematography and some breathtakingly good set-pieces. (To be fair to the Empress – she is played by Gong Li, who turns out to be incredibly young-looking for her age.) It’s always hard to read acting when the people and setting are of an entirely different culture. For me, the acting is not as melodramatic as is sometimes the case in Wuxia cinema; in fact, much of the cast were rather engaging. And the combat sequences are, as you would expect, choreographed beyond perfection.

The film is based on the play, Thunderstorm, which I’ve not seen, but you can tell that its source was indeed the theatre – and that the epic action was bolted on for cinematic splendour, perhaps. The fabric of the narrative is made up of dialogue and pregnant pauses, shots of Imperial life and regality. As a result, this is a slow burner, then (unlike the trailer suggests), concerning itself with the intricate histories between Emperor, Empress, lost loves, regret, political posturing, ploys, insanity, cleavage: you get the picture. Ultimately, though, I was left rather unmoved by the whole thing.

Curse of the Golden Flower turns out to be one of the most expensive films made in China: most of that must have gone into the set design or the costumes, which really are quite extraordinary, and speak for themselves.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. I can’t quite remember when I watched it, but I suppose that’s rather a testament to the movie’s forgettable nature. Political intrigue tends not to translate well to cinema, as it can be difficult to develop webbed relationships, establish characters and the tension between them all in roughly two hours (I suppose we’ll see if it translates any better when A Game of Thrones hits HBO).

    At the risk of displaying myself as something of a trendwhore, I’ll say that Hero is still my favorite Asian cinema piece. It had style to spare.

  2. I think political intrigue can work well, but I felt it relied upon visuals too much, rather than the character study.

    Yes. That was a mightily good film.

  3. I gave up on these Chinese historical epics a while ago; a lot of them are pretty boring and po-faced. Might be a cliché to say it, but Crouching Tiger was probably my favourite Wuxia flick, as it had a good mix of humour and swashbuckling action. Hero took itself a bit too seriously for my liking.

  4. There are some splendid visuals though, but I know what you mean about some of these taking themselves too seriously.

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