I must say I'm a tad bit disappointed with "Curse of the Golden Flower" the latest majestic, martial-arts flick from Zhang Yimou. After he gave audiences the superlative one-two punch of "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" in 2004, I was expecting Zhang's latest high-flying piece of eye candy to be as much of a whopper as those two. But what I got instead was some ol' Jerry Springer-style drama.
You see, even with all the fancy linens, kaleidoscopic production design and gloriousness, "Flower" is really a kitchen-sinker, the kind of cinematic melodrama that would make Douglas Sirk proud.
Set in 10th-century China, "Flower" has the eternally cool Chow Yun-Fat as the emperor of a dynasty embedded with more dark secrets than an episode of "Cheaters." First off, his empress wife (Gong Li, upstaged by her overflowing cleavage) has had, shall we say, past indiscretions with her stepson, Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye). Maybe that explains why the emperor is slowly poisoning her by spiking her hourly anemia medication with a black fungus from Persia that's giving her seizures. Her random wig-outs, not to mention her affinity for embroidering golden chrysanthemums everywhere, are starting to make her son, Prince Jai (Taiwanese singer Jay Chou), worry.
A lot more surprises and revelations are in store for this family, but unfortunately, they aren't as tasty and tawdry as you might think. Zhang spends so much time instilling this Byzantine tragedy with soap-opera theatrics, you start to wonder if he is simply, slyly commenting on the ridiculousness of royalty. But "Flower" is too vainglorious to resist taking itself seriously. This movie is to Chinese martial-arts epics what Dipset is to rap cliques.
Nowhere is this more true than in the set designs. The insides of the emperor's palace are so garishly eye-popping, the walls look like they're made of candy glass. (Zhang certainly gets in touch with his inner interior decorator on this one.) And don't believe the hype in the movie's action-packed TV ads -- the martial-arts sequences are limited. That was the most heart-breaking aspect, at least for me.
By the time "Flower" gets to its allegedly jaw-dropping climax, complete with a bloody, CGIed-to-infinity coup d'etat battle, your senses may have already been beaten down by the superfluousness of it all. It huffs and it puffs, until it pops and flies all over the place. Sure, "Curse of the Golden Flower" is fancy as all get out. But, even for a grand-scale movie like this, less is so, so, so much more.
Staff writer Craig D. Lindsey can be reached at 829-4760, firstname.lastname@example.org or blogs.newsobserver.com/unclecrizzle.