After seeing the Zhang Yimou directed Curse of the Golden Flower, I can honestly say I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed I hadn’t seen it sooner than this. It really was one of the best Kung Fu movies I have ever seen, rivaled by only “the One Armed Swordsman.” It starred Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li in the lead roles as the Emperor and Empress with Liu Ye, Jay Chou, and Qin Junji as their children Wan, Jai, and Yu. In addition, the movie also featured Ni Dahong as the Imperial Doctor, Chen Jin as his unnamed wife, and Li Man as their daughter, Chan.
In the beginning, the movie started out when it was revealed that the sickly Empress was having an affair with her step-son. He broke it off at that moment. Meanwhile, the Emperor and his second son Jai returned to the palace where they had a short duel to test each other’s strength. Jai put up a good fight, but the Emperor still won and then warned him to not try to take by force (which also served as a cryptic way of telling him he may become the heir before too long, something Jai didn’t pick up on). Shortly, it is revealed in a conversation between the Emperor and the Doctor that they had secretly been poisoning the Empress to keep her sick. His daughter later discovers that fact but is forced to keep quiet. Later on, she is revealed to be having a romance with the oldest son (and current Crown Prince). His mother walks in on them, but agrees to spare her. Eventually, a woman shows up and reveals to the Empress that she was being poisoned by the Emperor. After a fight with the Crown Prince, she turns out to be his mother (without him knowing at that time) and the Emperor’s first wife. Likewise, she was also the wife of the Imperial Doctor. Then, as a way to redeem himself, the Emperor decided to promote the Doctor. But it was all a set-up. The Doctor’s entire family was wiped out (except for Chen and her mother who both escaped). This leads them to the films climax where the already dysfunctional royal family becomes even more dysfunctional than they already were.
As I implied before, this movie was really quite brilliant. Most notably, the director’s use of close ups and tracking shots was brilliant. Each close up heightened each character’s emotional state at that point in the movie (especially Gong Li, but more on that later). In addition, the slow-motion tracking shots made each fight and each dramatic moment seem even more memorable than they already are—even though, the fight scenes were not that great on their own merit. Speaking of which, there weren’t that many fight scenes to begin with. Other than Black Belt and Ashes of Time, I can’t think of a martial arts film that was actually more slowly paced than this. But that’s beside the point. The point of this movie was not to have a lot of memorable fight scenes; rather, it was to tell a fantastic story. And in that case, the movie succeeded. It did a brilliant job, to be honest. Also, for people into design, both the clothing design and art direction were exceptional. They looked extremely authentic and were absolutely gorgeous to look at. In addition, each of the actors had stellar performances but the star of the show was clearly Gong Li. She did a brilliant job as the tragic heroine who begins to suspect she’s being poisoned and fails in her plot to eliminate the perpetrator. I mean, her performance alone made the movie seem even sadder than the plot already did.
Only if there was one thing I didn’t like about the movie, it was the choice of yellow subtitles, which were sometimes hard to read when the background consisted mostly of yellow and red (with some black, white, and blue thrown in). This made it sometimes hard to read, especially since they weren’t on the screen for nearly long enough. But other than that, I can’t say I had any complaints (and that was more the DVD’s fault anyway).
In the end, thanks to the movies brilliant cinematography, exceptional plot, and fantastic acting, I couldn’t recommend this movie any more than I already do—for that wouldn’t be possible.