We pretty much knew, even before we stepped into the theater, how this film was going to play out among the critics:
Some, like Richard Corliss at Time , would gush:
Chow, the long-ago supercool star of Hong Kong crime movies, parades a magnificent malevolence he’s not unleashed before. And Gong Li, working for the first time in 11 years with the director (and ex-lover) who made her an international star in Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern, shows a passion that has never been so animated or tearful.
This is high, and high-wire, melodrama. It’s less soap opera than grand opera, where matters of love and death are played at a perfect fever pitch. And grand this Golden Flower is.
Some would talk about the performances (Nick Schager on his blog):
Curse of the Golden Flower‘s real centerpiece, however, is Li, her increasingly insane Empress — whether commandingly ingesting her toxic remedy without looking at her legion of servants, or grandly sweating and shuddering due to its effects — proving so over-the-top imperial that she almost singlehandedly elevates the film’s heightened drama into something epic.
And the alternative weekly folks would bring a much needed dose of skepticism to the proceedings (David Chute from the LA Weekly):
But in the end, Curse also looks alarmingly like a dry run for the opening and closing ceremonies Zhang has been hired to direct for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. The meaning recedes and all that’s left is the sheer bludgeoning spectacle of perfectly aligned phalanxes of thousands of real soldiers, trotting, jogging and running in lockstep in rattling golden armor, creating an unholy Dolby Digital din.
Shanghaiist is going to have to agree, for the most part, with what David Chute had to say. There’s a definitely a lot of visual bang for the buck, but as one critic said, Zhang seems only in it for the carpentry and the CG. We don’t think that Gong Li’s “over-the-top imperial” or Chow’s King Lear/Othello turn is anything worth commending them for. We’re not saying that they’re bad actors, but they weren’t really given scripts that allowed them to build lifelike characters. Zhang’s budget seemed to allow for everything except a half decent writer.
Increasingly we feel that Jia Zhangke is right: it’s not that commercial films are inherently bad, but that there aren’t any Chinese directors that competently direct one, and this film was no exception. Were you to click on this link you’d be taken to a page with a bunch of essays and thoughts from armchair film critics and bloggers, who make the point, again and again, that this movie is all fizz and no gin. One essay makes the good point that since Chinese viewers probably have read or heard of the novel Lei Yu (雷雨), upon which much of the story of Curse was based, most of them already knew what the plot was.
However, if there’s one thing to be said for this film is that it is a pleasure for connoisseurs of (low) décolletage. The boobs of various court ladies shook, shivered and trembled throughout the film. Historians took issue with this choice of wardrobe, claiming the late Tang were much more conservative than this. But hey, it’s a movie and male viewers generally prefer ogling fulsome breasts to reading about hewing to historical fact. The fact that Curse is now the highest grossing domestic film in Chinese history (2.7 billion RMB thus far) seems to bear this theory out.
Photo from ent.sina.com.