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DVD Review

DVD cover

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
(2020 Reissue)


Starring: Chow Yun-fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou and Qin Junjie
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £9.99


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 14 December 2020

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006. 1 hr, 49 min, 42 sec) is a Chinese wuxia historical drama. The film was directed by Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers [2004], The Great Wall [2016]).

The film is posited on the premise that beneath all opulence and shows of wealth the heart of the government is rotten to the core.

The film opens on the advent of the chrysanthemum festival, with the emperor returning to the palace. This is a time of economic power for the dynasty and the palace reflect this. Not a single penny has been held back in portraying the image of the palace as a reflection of the emperors economic or political power. I got sent the DVD which, alone was impressive, but the sumptuous visuals call for Blu-ray, at least, but probably 4K would be better.

The film is a tragedy of Shakespearean levels. Everybody in the palace has a secret, collectively the secrets will be the death of them all.

Yun-Fat Chow plays Emperor Ping in a patriarchal era where women were second class citizens. Even Empress Phoenix (Gong Li) suffers at the behest of her husband. She has had to take medication for the last ten years, every two hours, just because her husband commands it. It is a ritual humiliation and act of obedience. While this has chaffed at her, she is, like many women before her a subject of a political marriage, rather than one of love. Only recently has she begun to suspect that her husband is slowly poisoning her.

Here we get to the first of the secrets Phoenix is not the first person with whom the emperor has had children. Number one son, Crown Prince Wan (Ye Liu) has been in a relationship with the empress in the three years that the Emperor has been away. Also, he has been carrying on an affair with Chan (Man Li) the daughter of the very doctor who is poisoning the empress.

Ok, it safe to say everyone in the imperial palace has secrets, many based of dodgy moral grounds. As the Chrysanthemum Festival arrives, the edifice, which is the imperial family finally unravelled, leading to impressive death and destruction.

What I most liked about the film, well one of them, is that the performances were very naturalistic for a western audience. We are used to the fantasy films where everyone seems to want to overact. The only actor which failed this test is Ye Liu, as Wan. Not that he is not a fine actor, but his style of acting was not right for this movie.

This is more like political intrigue, so there are not a lot of action sequences. Where they do appear, they are treated naturalistically. The last battle between tens of thousands of soldiers gives The Lord of the Rings a run for its money.

The film is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and Ye Liu aside the performances are perfect, it is not his fault he was just cast in the wrong film.

The DVD comes with some extras, kind of. Secrets Within (21 min, 46 sec) has the bulk of the interviews and behind the scenes footage. The Emperor Featurette and The Empress Featurette contain much of the same material as the main. Not surprising as they were produced to try and interest an English-speaking audience. You also get a photo gallery and a couple of trailers.

So, this is more realistic for fans of House of Flying Daggers, but it’s a much more grounded political tragedy and one well worth looking out for.


Charles Packer

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