'Curse of the Golden Flower' fuses high drama and romantic intrigue with the best of contemporary martial arts. Set in the lavish and breathtakingly colorful world hidden from the eyes of mere mortals behind the walls of the Forbidden City, a tale of a royal family divided against itself builds to a mythic climax as lines are crossed, trust is betrayed, and family blood is spilled in the quest for redemption and revenge.
For more about Curse of the Golden Flower and the Curse of the Golden Flower Blu-ray release, see Curse of the Golden Flower Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on September 4, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Sparks sizzle as sword strikes sword. Ornate fabrics explode from the screen in shimmering bursts.
Incestuous relationships mark dysfunctional royalty in China's Forbidden City. All these components
of Curse of the Golden Flower are familiar territory for Zhang Yimou. The film's director and co-
writer is known for bringing weightless warriors and tortured souls into tragedies where love cannot
conquer all. Curse of the Golden Flower is perhaps his most ambitious film in this genre. It is
certainly his most visually compelling, with vibrant colors, glittering gold and fascinating textures
filling almost every scene. The 1080p resolution allows the viewer to mine every detail of the
ornate costumes and sets.
The Curse of the Golden Flower explodes from the screen with colorful sets, lavish costumes and
The story unfolds slowly in the beautiful palace, where the empress (Gong Li) has a sudden
illness and appears obsessed with her needlepoint work, designing golden flowers. As the reasons
behind her illness and her needlework become clearer, the complex rifts between members of
the royal family move toward a bloody and tragic ending. The final showdown seems unavoidable
and, in spite of the inflated scope of the film, is more psychological than military. Yimou uses all
the tools at his disposal, culminating in CGI armies and effects. Yet these effects are not the
film's greatest power or visual feat. The sets and costumes are.
In Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li, Curse of the Golden Flower features two of Asia's biggest stars.
While the acting is excellent, the story and direction make the characters seem distant and
irrational. In fact, the entire atmosphere in the palace is bizarre. The propaganda-like hourly
announcements of the servants is simulataneously funny and chilling--a constant reminder that
the emperor rules with impunity. By the time the motivations for the characters' behavior are
made clear, most of them are already impossible to admire or appreciate. The only character the
viewer can easily relate to is the middle son. His loyalties are the purist, his leadership abilities
are admirable and his fighting skills are far beyond those of his brothers.
Curse of the Golden Flower is a serious film, an ambitious project. Unfortunately, like the
characters it portrays, the film is destined to tragic failure. But despite its challenges, Yimou
pursued it and it's easy to see why. The film is certainly worth viewing by anyone interested in
watching their HDTV's capacity for color and microdetail.
Sony Pictures does justice to the stunning visuals using the MPEG-4 codec. Watch for tremendous
details on armor, fabrics and faces. The resolution reveals the most subtle of facial expressions in
extraordinary detail, communicating the full emotion and motives of the actors' words to non-
speaking viewers. Subtitles are sufficient but they by no means communicate the full impact of the
dialogue. Watch how facial expressions change when information is shared for faster access to the
characters' motives and the subplots.
One feature of 1080p resolution: it fully reveals cheesy CGI effects and unfortunately, Curse of the
Golden Flower has its share. All the spears and arrows used in the fight scenes are computer-
generated, and it is not a particularly realistic look. Some views of the CGI armies also appear fake
and two dimensional, although the detail is there. Depth is generally lacking in this blu-ray, and it
may be a combination of cinematography and use of computer animation in some scenes. The sets
are generally small, so the shallow videostage focuses more on color richness than on depth.
While 20-bit, 96-kHz is more my ideal, the 16-bit, 48-kHz PCM is sufficient for this blu-ray. Voices
are rendered with a clear and strong presentation. Tonal cues and vocal inflections, like facial
expressions, are strong cues of the characters' motivations and mental state. I actually heard
many nuances of Chinese I had not heard before. The soundtrack was of CD quality. Aside from the
score and voices, other sounds in the film were not mic'ed convincingly, and had a hard-edge.
It works for me because the quality of the soundtrack really was not a close match to the quality
visuals. In some films from Asia, the scores make use of traditional instruments such as the erhu.
One of the disturbing trends in films like Curse of the Golden Flower is to abandon Chinese music.
Some influence and modern Chinese music remains, but much of the soundtrack was a recording
of a synthesizer. To be fair, the film includes use of traditional drums, but they had almost no deep
bass impact. The audio was better than DVD quality, but not reference quality.
Maybe there is less coverage of movies and moviemakers in China. The Curse of the Golden Flower
is light on bonus material. Only two special features are included: the Los Angeles premiere of the
film and a more rewarding supplement entitled, "Secrets Within: Making of a Featurette".
Yimou has a distinctive style rooted in folk traditions of China. But he is increasingly
influenced by western films, especially those involving epic scope and CGI battles. It seems he
tries to work in these devices just for the sake of it. The story becomes an excuse for the visuals
instead of the other way 'round.
With the emotional and psychological plotline, a political or military component to the film
becomes a bit much. By including it, Yimou lost some focus on the underlying story and
characters. The result is depressing--all the more so because it seems unavoidable. The
characters turn into emotional black holes that do not reward the viewers' interest. But that's
essentially the way the story is written. The way the plot evolves, the characters are by
definition not accessible to viewers with decent values.
Curse of the Golden Flower had elements of Shakesperian tragedy, but the only deep message
was that the characters knew they were doomed and pursued their plans regardless. And that,
ironically, is the story of the film, too. Yimou pursued the film regardless, as a vehicle for his
visual art. The weightless warriors and splashes of color show Yimou's gift. If only the story was
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