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Curse of the Golden Flower: Pageantry and Intrigue

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Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower, which closed out last November’s AFI Festival, is now in release. Curse takes place on the eve of the Chrysanthemum Festival in the year 928 A.D. at the end of the Tang Dynasty, as the emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) arrives unexpectedly to find that the empress (Gong Li) is unwell, despite the herbal medicine that he personally prescribes. The palace setting—the crazy psychedelic colors of its jade walls, the imperial red and gold, and the thousands of soldiers, servants, and other household members—swirls us into intrigue: sons in revolt, incest both witting and unwitting, plots and poison, and at the top of the pyramid, an unhappy autocrat.

Zhang shows us how the rituals of the court and Confucian mores dictate how the family acts and reacts, even in crisis. He also gives us spectacle: the codified life of the royal court, the sweep of the breathtaking landscape outside the palace, and of course some beautifully-orchestrated battle scenes (with CGI assistance), as well as some more traditional martial-arts moments. The film is pure entertainment served up on a historical platter, with action and drama and scenery enough to sustain interest for almost two hours.

Recently named China’s official selection for the Best Foreign Film category for the Academy Awards, Curse of the Golden Flower is a costume epic that creates its own, engrossing world.

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Photo by Chun's via Flickr