Sunday, January 14, 2007

Curse, Indeed, of the Golden Flower

My friend Bob on Curse of the Golden Flower: "It's a slog, man. Very beautiful colors, but if I wanted to see a bunch of people just walking through a palace, I'd watch The West Wing." Does anyone still need a review?

Oh, why not. I will add (and you thought I was being so nice yesterday!) that a corollary problem to the endless power-walks through the palace of Emperor Ping, which are already more repetitious than the arpeggios in a Philip Glass score, is that Zhang Yimou indulges the tacky, sticky Rainbow Brite explosion of his mise-en-scène but fails entirely to construct a coherent physical space. For a movie that did precious little beyond sinking me into a Day Glo fortress, I wish that Curse had allowed me to know a little something about that fortress. It certainly didn't help that Gong Li—who has given poor, predictable, inexpressive performances in six straight movies now (Zhou Yu's Train, the partial exception of 2046, her lurid segment of Eros, Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice, and now this)—can't assemble or communicate Empress Phoenix's villainy in any but the most banally perverse and overstated ways. Maggie Cheung could swoop through a carnelian castle in Zhang's Hero and hold the screen because that gal is a full-throttle cinema actress, with an ideal face and a subtle but heat-seeking instinct for how to use it. Gong used to give off a comparable vibe, but I think her gifts have coarsened and frozen by now, and she's pushing her way onto the dread Danny Huston List of actors I hate to see cast in anything.

Curse of the Golden Flower raises a conundrum, both physical and philosophical, of whether matter and energy can go over the top if there's nothing there, no substance or idea, to go over the top of. Heidi, Nina, and Michael could search high and low for Zhang's "taste level" here without ever finding it, and the grim inadequacies of the performances, the script, and the montage aren't so much compensated as they are thrown into greater relief by the gaudy grandiloquence of the colors and the lighting. The images of violence that break through the glassy neon surface of Golden Flower are punishing and fetishistic in that Mel Gibson vein, and when Zhang ties up this whole tale of civil war, incest, royal alienation, and choreographed bloodsport with some mewling, ridiculous ballad about "traces of your smile on a yellowing scroll," the film has either reached the apex of its own absurdity or the nadir of its own expensive emptiness. Probably both. At least the sober and discomfiting nationalism of Hero has loosened up into a friskier, more iconoclastic take on Chinese imperial mythmaking, but Curse hardly reflects the perspective of a mature or self-disciplined filmmaker, and there are too many other movies to see without wasting time on this unseemly bauble. D+

(Image © 2006 Sony Pictures Classics)

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Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

it kills me that this has a worse grade than the new annual installment of "White Teacher Saves Urban Children" that you also just saw.


didn't you at least enjoy some of the underwire of black comedy?

I still think Gong Li is pretty enough to get away with a lot (see also: Scarlett Johansson) but I agree that her performances aren't what they used to be Memoirs has to be the nadir though.

and Danny Huston. ditto on the "ewww"

8:04 AM, January 15, 2007  

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