Curse of the Golden Flower (Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia): 3 Stars (out of 5)
Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia, or Curse of the Golden Flower, is a good film. It’s colorful and vibrant. The plot is tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, and the acting is well done. So why didn’t I like it more than I did? Perhaps the biggest ‘curse’ the film has going for it is how it will constantly remind you of other films you would rather be watching. For a failing it’s not leathal for the film, but I was left with the sense that it should have been more, and less, than what it was.
The film follows the basic structure of a Shakespearean tragedy (you’ll notice a little Hamlet, among others). The story involves the royal family of the Forbidden City only days before the Chrysanthemum Festival. Despite the joyous atmosphere life in the palace is less than celebratory.
The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) is struggling with renaming an heir to suceed him to the throne. His First Son (Ye Liu), and current Crown Prince, has no desire to rule and is currently having a secret affair with both his stepmother the Empress (Li Gong) and the Imperial Doctor’s daughter (Man Li). The Second Son (Jay Chou), a proven warrior on the battlefield, could be the obvious choice except his loyalty to his mother might be an issue since the Emperor is slowly poisoning her in an effort to drive her to insanity and death (told you there was a little Shakespeare, didn’t I?).
There’s also the skulking Third Son (Qin Junjie), the hidden past of Imperial Doctor’s wife (Chen Jin), huge battle sequences, secrets aplenty, and the Empress’ own plans for her husband and the kingdom which will culminate at the Chrysanthemum Festival.
The film is both too much and not enough. The essence of the story is a personal and deadly one that works well on screen with this talented group of actors. Added to this however are director Yimou Zhang‘s (House of Flying Daggers, Hero) touches of martial arts, intricate and complex wire stunts, and splashes of color, in a film that might be better if it was a little more subdued. There’s also a huge battle sequence more appropriate for Peter Jackson‘s The Two Towers than in a film like this. In the same way the delicate wire stunt sequences, though visually pleasing, also seem more like distractions rather than enhancements to the story.
Also slightly troubling to me were how, at times during the film, the photography and the digital effects didn’t quite sync together, especially in wide angle shots that come after long effect sequences. There are only a couple such moments, but I did find them distracting.
Despite all the flaws of the film I’m still recommending it for it’s lavish beauty, good performances, and, what can I say, I like me some Shakespearean tragedy. It’s not as good as it could, or probably should, have been, but the Curse of the Golden Flower does have a vibrance and charm I think many will enjoy.