Tuesday, December 26, 2006

movie review: Curse of the Golden Flower 《满城尽带黄金甲》

" Short Note: I had a blocker in front of me during Eragon, and I was LUCKY to have a pineapple head in front of me in Curse of the Golden Flower. I couldn't help but to feel the curse of view blockers! "

" Poster Note: Poster is provided by "

Official Site: Curse of the Golden Flower
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Curse of the Golden Flower 《满城尽带黄金甲》: After two years of wait, director Zhang Yi-Mou (张艺谋) finally came up with another production since House of Flying Daggers 《十面埋伏》.

If Happy Feet's tagline is "WARNING: May cause Toe-tapping", then this movie should adopt this tagline instead - "WARNING: May cause nose bleeding". This movie is just cleavage overloaded. Too much of cleavage showing for the whole runtime of 1hour and 53minutes!

Cleavage overdose, boobs-popping display.

With Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li leading the cast, and Zhang Yi-Mou at director’s helm, I really had quite some expectations for this movie. However, I could have not gone for the movie, as Jay Chou was featured in the movie. I was not even near to being impressed by his debut performance Initial D the Movie 《头文子D》.

For official synopsis, you may refer here.

Before the movie, I prepared myself a bit, reading bit of reviews here and there. I thought the reading had done me good, by helping me to lower the expectations. I guess it just did not help as much as I hoped for after all.

The movie started off with a bang. Audience were served with a pleasant visual surprise – overwhelming cleavage.

Alright, enough of cleavage for now. Let’s just get back to the proper review. Curse of the Golden Flower (Flower for short hereinafter) is about secrecy behind the closed palace. Prince returned from exile, Empress were having affair with another price, and also how can you not include a cruel Emperor in the plot? Generally, it sounded similar to Feng Xiao-Gang’s The Banquet, which was released few months ago in September. But, Flower is not another adaptation of the famous literature piece - Hamlet.

Flower spent almost half of 113mins on telling the dysfunctional relationships between the royal family – the affair they had between Empress and Prince Xiang, the affair between Prince Xiang and palace maid Jiang Chan, the masked man and woman relationship between the Emperor and the Empress, the mother-and-son love between the Empress and Prince Jie.

Overall, the plot is still okay, within the tolerance level. However, the storyline developed in a rather slow pace. They were too occupied showing cleavage, and bouncing boobs most of the time.

Though the plot is considerably okay, I still find the whole thing quite ridiculous. Prior the movie’s release, the over-exaggerated and excessive designs for both costumes and background settings were among the hot topics discussed by critiques. They were right on that.

To a start, I doubt the casting a little, particularly on the princes. Apart of Prince Jie (Jay Chou), I seriously ponder why Ye Liu was being casted as Crown Prince Xiang, who is supposed to have affair with the Empress. He looked more like a eunuch (太监) to me, and if he is supposed to be the right choice, I think the Empress must have been blind to be attracted to him, probably out of desperation. I guess they were trying someone who could bring out the Crown Prince’s character as a weakling, a coward.

Crown Prince "Mr. Eunuch" Xiang.

The tensed relationship between the Emperor and Empress had the latter of having rebellion in mind. After knowing that the Emperor is plotting the Empress’s death, she did not intent of holding back in her attempt to dethrone him. She seemed to have everything plot nicely, and just waiting for execution. In the end, the whole plan was foiled, thanks to Crown Prince Xiang. He told the plan to his father after figuring out what the Empress had under her sleeves.

Those were still fine to me. When it came to their plan execution, I find it rather illogic. What seemed to be a carefully drafted rebellion plan, turned to be quite a silly one. Knowing the Emperor’s prowess in battlefield experience and his army strength, it is suicidal to confront them by marching on to the palace with millions of army.

I mean, yes, you have the million strong of army men marching in Golden armor, yet it is most vulnerable having to march on into a box. With little surprise, those infantries were easily upended by Emperor’s troop by surrounding them at the perimeter. With just archers and arrows, millions were easily swiped off, just like that. Millions were cut to thousands, and thousands to hundreds. Smart move eh?

Shouldn’t it be a stealth assassination attempt be more appropriate than an assault march? Shouldn’t they have it planned better?

No doubt, the whole marching by the Golden armored troop looked grand. Grand, but not practical. Perhaps they should watch the Battle of Wits, learning from Mozi’s art of war, and not imitating Peter Jackson’s LOTR grand scale battle scene.

I really thought it’s a wrong practice at a wrong place. Geographically and strategically, it’s just so wrong to deploy such move.

Speaking of being illogical, the background settings are not only illogical, but also annoying. The whole color scheme was terribly obscene, let alone the plot (the incest in the plot is quite obscene). I could never accept what they portray in Flower as a Chinese palace. It was more like a Persian palace to me.

Just look at the background (color). Does it look China to you?

Not only the whole movie was cleavage overdose, they were also overdone with bling-bling. Gold seemed to be the main color theme throughout the movie, from the palace to the troops’ armor. To add gloss to the obscenity, they garnished the bling-bling themed palace with striking combined color, like Wall’s Paddle Pop ice-cream. I felt sick from time to time, finding the color never fail in disgusting me. I consider myself lucky not to barf instantly after the movie.

On the costume design, the costume design strayed too far off from the actual Chinese history. It looked more like adopting Star War’s theme, or maybe some movie. Within the palace, the ladies were dressed to show cleavage. In battle suit, the armor were like of the Trojans’. Just hideous!

When the movie started, I was fairly disappointed, and almost did not feel like finishing the movie. The version I watched, was a Cantonese-dubbed version. Yes, the whole movie is dubbed. Original track should be in Mandarin. I hate it when they are not showing with the original voice tracks and score.

With that, I couldn’t really judge if Jay Chou deserves the credentials given to him in the movie. I never thought he’s an actor material. Putting away the voices, he had not much screen time in this movie. For that, he doesn’t have much line to say. During the latter part of the movie, he only needs to wield around the huge battle weapon – guan dao. It’s a little funny how he could wield that weapon so freely. The weapon outsized him.

Mr. Jay "Wannabe-cool" Chou.

In his previous movie – Initial D, he got away lucky as the character he’s playing is supposed to be rather quiet and shy. Thus, less line to be expressed.

As quoted by S.B. Toh, extracted from TheStar, Jay Chou made Daniel Wu (of The Banquet) a young DeNiro for his recent performance.

Some of the quotes from TheStar:

Jay Chou's conflicted son comes closest to a sympathetic figure, but the prince of Mandarin pop is about as emotive as a piece of plank. He makes Daniel Wu, the prince in peril in The Banquet, seems like a young DeNiro.

This is a world where New Money has gone bonkers. The characters love their bling-bling so. They wear their hair like Simba, their house is over-embellished, their colours make you dizzy, and there is entirely too much cleavage on display.

Even if the reviwer in me thinks that all the flesh (referring to the cleavage display) gives the story no boost. How are we supposed to concetrate on the story, for heaven's sake?!

Curse of the Golden Flower is an exercise in overkill, in everything and in every way.

The family it chronicles is so dysfunctional it breaks down completely. The interior of the palace is so ugly it hurts just to look. Too often, the story is bogged down by its fascination with the kitschy and the exotic. The action sequences, when served at last, are bloated and overcooked.

On more technical side, the director preferred more close-up shots throughout the movie. He had more macro shots in almost everything in the movie, including the fighting sequences. Speaking of which, the fight scenes were criticized by Donnie Yen, and quoted as outdated. I agree with that. Fight scenes were not greatly choreographed.

Overall, the moviemakers were attempting to put a grand scale to the movie. You have grand scale in number of palace maids showing grand scale of boobs and cleavage (including Gong Li’s). You have grand scale of helpers in preparation for Empress’s one-sip-medication. And lastly, you have a LOTR-wannabe battlescene with Golden army trying to overturn Silver army. Those looked grand, seriously. Though grand, they’re all silly.

I am pretty disappointed by Zhang’s latest piece of work. I would have preferred The Banquet and Battle of the Wits better. Whenever you felt a 2 hours movie 3 hour-long, it’s not a good sign to the movie. It’s not a classic, it wouldn’t really make it to my DVD collection rack if it hadn’t been Zhang Yi-Mou as the director. If you really want to watch this movie, please watch it in Mandarin language, and NOT Cantonese one.

End Note: Jay Chou is having his third movie coming up in near future. His next cast will be as a basketball player in Slam Dunk. I have no further information on this movie outline at this point. I personally wouldn’t put high expectation on him, yet again, even though he claimed basketball as his favorite past time. I have seen his skills, and honestly, it’s not great, probably same as me. =P

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