And you thought your family had problems. It’s the 10th century and the royal family of the Tang Dynasty is tearing itself apart. Emperor Ping (Chow Yun Fat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) has been slowly poisoning his second wife Empress Phoenix (Gong Li, Memoirs of a Geisha). The Empress, however, hasn’t exactly been saintly herself—having an illicit affair with her stepson, the Emperor’s eldest son Prince Wan (Liu Ye, The Promise). When the Emperor’s second eldest son Prince Jai (popstar Jay Chou, Initial D) hears of his mother’s poisoning, he decides to aid mommy dearest in abdicating the Emperor from his throne.
Quite the soap opera, no? And it only gets more compelling with each twist and turn. Sure, these developments may not be terribly surprising, but thanks to Zhang Yimou’s (House of Flying Daggers) perfectly paced and incredibly well-written script, it doesn’t really matter. The plot is wonderfully Shakespearean in its themes and the film has visuals to match. From the epic battle scenes within the palace grounds, down to the details like The Empress’s gorgeous wardrobe, The Curse of the Golden Flower is grand and spectacular.
The cast is more than up to the task of taking the film’s epic proportion to new heights. Chow is, as usual, completely badass. Whether he’s just sitting around or engaging in combat training with Chou’s character, his mere presence alone exudes a sense of awe and fear. His best moment, we felt, was at the end when he completely loses it and bludgeons someone close to him to death with his belt. His take was the perfect mix of power and grief-stricken insanity. Likewise, Li is absolutely majestic, carrying herself with a regal air, but seamlessly humanizing her character when the moment called for it.
Our only real gripe is with Chou, who’s never been known for his acting abilities. Sure, during the battle scenes, Chou looks cool enough, but he’s a totally inept actor.
Nevertheless, this is still an amazing movie. Classical themes with modern day action and a cast that is almost perfect—miss this at your own peril.