Curse of the Golden Flower

MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +1

Content: -4

Chow Yun Fat, Jay Chou, Liu Li, Gong Li, Li Man. Martial arts/drama. Written by Wu Nan, Yimou Zhang, Bian Zhihong. Directed by Yimou Zhang.

FILM SYNOPSIS: China, Later Tang Dynasty, 10th Century. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou). His pretext is to celebrate the holiday with his family, but given the chilled relations between the Emperor and the ailing Empress (Gong Li), this seems disingenuous. For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit liaison. Feeling trapped, Prince Wan dreams of escaping the palace with his secret love Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor's daughter. Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows worried over the Empress's health and her obsession with golden chrysanthemums. Could she be headed down an ominous path? The Emperor harbors equally clandestine plans; the Imperial Doctor (Ni Dahong) is the only one privy to his machinations. When the Emperor senses a looming threat, he relocates the doctor's family from the palace to a remote area. While they are en route, mysterious assassins attack them. Chan and her mother, Jiang Shi (Chen Jin) are forced back to the palace. Their return sets off a tumultuous sequence of dark surprises. Amid the glamour and grandeur of the festival, ugly secrets are revealed. As the Imperial family continues its elaborate charade in a palatial setting, thousands of golden armored warriors charge the palace. Who is behind this brutal rebellion? Where do Prince Jai's loyalties lie? Between love and desire, is there a final winner? Against a moonlit night, thousands of chrysanthemum blossoms are trampled as blood spills across the Imperial Palace.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Curse of the Golden Flower could easily have been titled The House of Borgia-san, for this sick group shares much in common with the heirs of that back-stabbing, murdering Italian Renaissance family. What begins as a stylized and colorful visceral experience eventually sinks into the familiar martial arts debacle, this one just a bit more perverse, and a lot more violent. Those who enjoy the action adventure found in fantastical Asian martial arts films may become bored with the slow-paced intrigue, while those who demand integral storyline may feel assaulted by debauchery and the stylized violence.

Shakespeare proved that most any theme could be addressed, or masked, with eloquent language. He did more than one play concerning dastardly dealings among family members. And he did it in such a spellbinding manner that audiences kept coming back. Im not sure the makers of Curse of the Golden Flower will find such devotion.

This film has a scintillating look, and its action sequences move along at an energetic pace, but the computer-generated overdoing coupled with themes of incest and loveless/vengeful relationships become vile and demoralizing. Shakespeare dealt with hidden human desires in similar family calamities, but this production avoids the human condition almost completely, preferring to bombard with chop-socky silliness.

My Video Alternative: Crouching Tiger; Hidden Dragon. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), a weary martial arts warrior anxious to hang up his 400-year-old sword, must first dissuade a young woman from seeking a life of adventure by following his old nemesis Jade Fox (Cheng Pei Pei). With the aid of Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), a female warrior Li Mu Bai has loved in silence, he soon discovers that the young beauty is nearly as proficient with a sword and the art of battle as is he. When the ancient sword is stolen, the stage is set for the honorable warriors to battle Jade Fox, who is determined to destroy Li Mu Bai.

Bruce Lee made physicality the central element to the success of Chinese action films. Jackie Chan added humor and precision to the genre. Now, director Ang Lee brings astonishing visual effects to martial arts. He adds magic to the mystique of Asian kicksuey. His warriors dont merely jump higher than physically possible, they literally fly. Indeed, much of the film has its heroes chasing their adversaries over rooftops and, in one instance, through forests, stopping to sword fight atop towering trees. The film is action-packed, equally splitting time between romance and confounding fight sequences. It is, to say the least, a very visual film.

Although it has a woman praying to a shrine, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is not about promoting Eastern religious beliefs. Nor does the exuberant choreography suggest legitimate sorcery. Nothing in it, except for the themes of love and honor, is to be taken seriously. It is fantasy.

The fly in the dim sum, however, is the films one sexual encounter between an unwed couple that seems to imply the unimportance of marriage. But it is a short scene with no nudity, and it is clear that they truly love each other. The violence, while continuous, is artful and nearly bloodless. While I suggest caution concerning the brief sexuality, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragons positive message is that good will conquer evil if we continue to battle it. It is rated PG-13 and contains one sexual situation between an unmarried couple, but it is not graphic, nor does it exhibit nudity. It receives its rating for the many fight scenes.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Sony Pictures Classics

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: None

Obscene Language: None

Profanity: None

Violence: The film receives its R-rating for the excessive violence and themes of treachery, lust, incest, betrayal, revenge and vengeance. Blood: Like the Kill Bill series, the blood spurting will seem stylized to fans of the genre, whereas, others will simply find it excessive. There are countless martial arts battles (featuring both men and women) culminating in a huge face-off of armies. This becomes a desensitizing blood bath.

Sex: Themes of incest between a mother and grown son. Ick. The father the Emperor commits adultery.

Nudity: None. Women, per the custom, dressed in low-cut dresses that seemed to bind the chest, yet exposed a portion of the breasts.

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: Some discussion of past infidelity and relationship with a family member.

Drugs: A dying woman daily drinks a potion her husband has tampered with in an effort to kill her slowly. Great family.

Other: I think Ick covers it.

Running Time: 114 minutes
Intended Audience: Older teens and adults

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