Curse of the Golden Flower
Director Zhang Yimou loves color, and it seems as if he goes a little more color-crazy with each film. In Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) Zhang makes color almost the whole point of the exercise while it was certainly a part of the entire experience of his visually impressive Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004), the sheer opulence of the sets in Curse serve to make an undeniable statement about the extravagance and corruption of feudal Chinese royalty. Here, Zhang reunites with famed actress Gong Li, who starred in Zhang's films of the early 1990's Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, The Story of Qiu Ju, To Live, and Shanghai Triad. In this epic spectacle, Gong plays Empress Phoenix, the daughter of a king who's watched her husband (Chow Yun Fat) rise from the ranks of military service to Emperor while she herself has no power. Unaware that she's being slowly poisoned at her husband's command with a substance that will take away her sanity, she does all that she can to make sure her beloved second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou), will succeed to the throne instead of his older brother, her stepson Crown Prince Wan (Ye Liu), with whom as befits a story of this scope she's having an affair. Zhang uses this rather traditional plot of family treachery and political intrigue to comment on the oppression of the feudal system during China's Tang dynasty, contrasting the jaw-dropping beauty of the Imperial Palace with the nasty goings-on within its walls, the culture's repression of women, and the enormous amount of slave labor that created everything from weapons to herbs to foodstuffs for the royal family. As the yearly Chrysanthemum Festival approaches, acres of bright yellow flowers fill the courtyards surrounding the palace, and the ill Empress obsessively embroiders representations of the flowers while simultaneously spinning her plot it's all very obvious symbolism, very beautiful, intensely convoluted, and utterly compelling. While Curse of the Golden Flower lacks the visceral thrills of Hero and the more entertaining characters of House of Flying Daggers, its sheer spectacle and grandeur recall early works by D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, with a splash of late Kurosawa for good measure. It's an overabundant visual feast, but a satisfying one.
Sony's DVD release offers up a stunning anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that may not replicate the experience of seeing this film on the big screen but which still offers an enormous amount of punch colors are vivid in the extreme, and the sharpness is superlative. The DD 5.1 audio (Chinese or dubbed English, with English or French subtitles) is very good as well. Also on board is the "making-of" featurette "Secrets Within" (22 min.) that's pretty standard fare, although it's nice to hear Zhang discuss what he intended with the film; moments from the picture's Los Angeles premiere (2 min.); and a boatload of trailers for other Sony releases. Keep-case.