Let me start by saying I'm a sucker for Zhang Yimou. From martial arts epics like Hero to town and country comedies like Not One Less, he delivers year after year, gracefully hopping from style to style and mastering them all.
His latest, Curse of the Golden Flower, picks up where last year's twin killings of Hero and House of Flying Daggers left off. Curse is a martial arts epic on the grandest of scales. In many respects Curse fulfills the promise of films from Hollywood's Golden Era in ways that American films no longer approach. If you have a hankering for a bygone era where movies provided an element of escapism with stories bigger than life, international stars dressed to the nines, set in milieus beyond your wildest fantasies then Curse delivers in style.
Set amidst the palaces of Tang Dynasty China, the sets are beyond belief -- opulent and colorful, bordering on kaleidescopic. The wardrobe, costumes and hairdos should have devotees of Edith Head swimming in their saliva. Both Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat look amazing and don jaw-dropping outfit after jaw-dropping outfit. But the fashion show doesn't stop with the stars, the film has a cast of thousands dressed in color-coordinated finery.
As for the story, this is unabashed melodrama of (Douglas) Sirkian proportions involving infidelity, incest, poison, and for good measure, a military coup that leads to a staggering body count. And while the mounting death toll may be a turn off to those fond of a more genteel 50's universe, the martial arts sequences are a thing of choreographed beauty. It might not be Astaire and Rogers, but one could make a case for a comparison.
Technically the film is astounding. The cinematography, art direction, editing, and sound mix are all Academy Award caliber. Like the Golden Age of Hollywood, which featured the top technicians at the top of their game, Zhang has surrounded himself with technical masters. At the end of the day, if you're looking to sink back into your seat and let a movie envelop you, Curse of The Golden Flower won't disappoint.