Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 7/4/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

Curse of the Golden Flower

About a month ago, I reviewed Hero, a masterpiece of a martial arts epic starring Jet Li and directed by Zhang Yimou. Since we loved the movie so much, Heather and I have been excited to see Yimou's two most recent efforts. We were mildly disappointed last year when we rented House of Flying Daggers, which, while not a bad film, was nowhere near as engrossing as Hero. We were hoping Yimou would rebound with 2006's Curse of the Golden Flower when we rented it a couple weeks ago. Sadly, despite breathtaking visuals and some of the best action choreography ever put of film, the movie proved to be even more disappointing.

Curse of the Golden Flower is a tale of turbulent drama tearing apart the imperial family. Set in the 10th century, the movie focuses on Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat) and Empress Liang (Gong Li). The two's marriage is nothing more than a political alliance, and it is beginning to break down, catching their sons and the entire kingdom in a tangled web of greed and betrayal. As their secret plots against one another come to light, those around them must choose sides as the nation's future hangs in the balance.

The film's dysfunctional family dynamic plays as equal parts Greek tragedy and soap opera. Everyone has their personal motivations and ambitions, and what begins as quiet desperation quickly snowballs into national crisis. Modern day tragedy can make for an engrossing film (as Clint Eastwood has demonstrated over the last several years with his masterful Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby), but it requires us to be deeply invested in the characters at the center of the action - a requirement that Curse of the Golden Flower never lives up to, leaving us with an ultimately empty experience. That's not to say that there's nothing to admire and enjoy here. The action choreography is quite possibly the coolest I've ever seen in an action film. Several sequences involving assassins twirling scimitars on the end of ropes while flying through the air on grappling hooks will send your jaw to the floor. The film is visually stunning, with every costume (the film was nominated for an Oscar for costume design) and set exploding with color. Though you're likely to grow bored over the course of the movie, your eyes will stay engaged to the very end. Yimou has a cinematic sense for beauty like few others. However, Curse of the Golden Flower fails to undergird that visual beauty with a compelling narrative, which means it ultimately falls flat, especially in comparison to Hero. If you haven't seen Hero, then what are you waiting for? If you have seen Hero, then go watch it again and, unless you're a die hard wuxia fan, leave this one on the shelf. - *1/2 (out of 4).

Curse of the Golden Flower is rated R for violence.

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