Sex, lies, and …. poison

Gold and Jade adorn the outside, but within all is dark and rotting

Chinese saying

Curse if the Golden Flower (2006)
Melodrama,    Tragedy,    Wuxia film
Written by
Directed by
 Chow Yun-fat,    Gong Li,    Jay Chou,    Qin Junjie,    Liu Ye 
Country of Origin
Running time
114 minutes

oh! … flashback

You cannot write about this film without writing about its writer and director, Zhang Yimou, a world-renowned Chinese film director, producer, actor and former cinematographer. He has won countless awards across the globe and received international acclaim for his amazing productions and following the directing of the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

When he writes for film, Zhang Yimou typically writes storylines that highlight the spirit of the Chinese people in the face of poverty and hardship. He is not afraid to use exuberant colour and costumes. The man is extremely talented and controversial!

oh! … brief

Set in China in the year 928 A.D. during the late Tang Dynasty, this film follows the lives of five royals and the tragedy of their dysfunctional family. The story unfolds into a journey of deceit, betrayal, manipulations, rebellion, insanity and murder.

The five royals include:

      1. Emperor Ping, not born royal but whose ambition won him his crown,
      2. Empress Phoenix whose slow descent into madness is not biological, rather constructed by the hand of the one who is sworn to love and protect her,
      3. Crown Prince Wan is in an intimate sexual relationship with his step-mom,
      4. Prince Zhai, a warrior, who sides with his stepmom and plots a coup to destroy his father, and
      5. Prince Yu, the youngest, who is angry and bitter but his life is cut short when he is beaten to death by his own father.

oh! … talks film

This film weaves an enduring tale of conspiracy, depravity, and misfortune, and would be suitably cast in film noir if it weren’t for the vivid colour used throughout – costumes, props, set design et al. There is no true understanding how the depravity begins but one can only assume it because of the extra-marital affair the Empress has been involved in for at least three years.

The underlying message I believe is to be conscious of the decisions made in life as they trigger consequences, whether the choice is right or wrong. It is a sad reality for all parties involved.

The film is very Shakespearian and Freud would have loved to dissect the characters.

Set design was amazing not only was palace buildings specifically built but, a gigantic outdoor set was created for the palace grounds. Huo Tingxiao in charge of production design conveyed the brutality of affluence in this era succinctly.  The glaring gold and ornate design of the settings was mind-blowing and brought to mind baroque boudoirs. I caught myself wondering if this was a true reflection of the time? Such opulence was exquisite to see but also harsh in the light of historical China.

The palace was bursting with colours and fetching female courtiers wearing bustier-styled dresses that left much of the bust exposed, for the purpose of creating the sexual backstory, no doubt. No detail was missed – from the ornate jewellery and headdresses, through the exquisitely beaded costumes to the coloured armour and grappling hooks, every little detail of costumery was mastered.

This film was a piece of art in my opinion.

The cinematography by Zhao Xiading was outstanding and accomplished using a myriad of techniques only true masters can realise.

The score was dark, haunting and accompanied the action on screen precisely. Shigeru Umebayashi did a wonderful job!

The costume design and overall visual appeal were outstanding and Yee Chung Man excelled in paying attention to detail.

The mastery behind the action and martial arts scenes was directed by Tony Ching Siu-Tung and WOW!!! What an amazing job he did with all those dramatic action scenes – the ninjas descending from the sky, the amazing battle scene. He portrayed the brutality and the fight scenes with a fierceness only known to wuxia films.

Every aspect of the film set up the perfect environment for the story to come to life, and it did, with a skilled cast of some of China’s best.

Chow Yun Fat, best known for his western role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, portrayed the scheming Emperor well. He excelled in the antagonistic chemistry between his character and that of his wife – the sparks between the two and the subsequent tension was remarkable. He managed to restrain his facial expressions and not give away emotion, which is very hard for humans to achieve. Our faces often betray our thoughts and feelings. He did a tremendous job of becoming his character, delivering intensity in the midst of a tug-of-war struggle to retain his title and power.

Gong Li, best known for her western supporting role in Memoirs of a Geisha, was astounding in this role. There were only a few scenes between herself and her husband, but the hatred and venom between the two were tangible and breath-taking. She inhabited her role. She was the Empress who decided to take her husband’s son as her lover and devise a coup to bring about his destruction. The only time the character changed emotion was when she was dealing with her lover, then she became soft and doe-eyed. Otherwise, her every move, every glance, and almost every interaction portrayed how psychopathic she had become. It was brilliant to watch her Gong Li spin her character into insanity, very provocative and very film noir. Her emotional outbursts were horrific but believable and understandable given her situation.

Prince Zhai, played by Jay Chou, Prince Yu, played by Qin Junjie and Crown Prince Wan, played by Liu Ye all delivered rock solid performances. The spiralling emotions and plot twists were realistically portrayed by their characters. Crown Prince Wan (the character) really irritated me, I wanted to get up and slap the back of his head and tell him to grow a backbone he was so insipid and I imagine that is exactly how Liu Ye interpreted his character to be, he did a great job. Jay Chou radiated royalty and poise in his character. The youngest prince was lost to me, I got the anger, I got the resentment and the spoilt-brattish “me” attitude but I couldn’t connect with him, not because the acting was off, it was just a dislike about the role I suspect. All three were exceptionally well cast for this production, but Zhang Yimou knows his art!

As you know by now with the reviews I write, I look for the hidden or underlying messaging in the films and drama I watch. I can’t help it, I’m analytical that way. This drama had a few messages that I think I’ll write about.

One already alluded to in the above text is the consequences triggered by our actions and choices and how in the grand scheme of things, our role may be smaller than we want it or understand it to be. This is an important message for navigating life’s difficult decisions. Weighing up the pros and cons can be time-consuming, but is sometimes better than making a rash decision and living to regret it. Also, our decisions and choices don’t only affect our lives but crisscross with the lives of those we love and respect.

Another message that was a little tougher to wrap my mind around was the concept that while many things can be changed or altered, nothing can be changed. I think this is something firm believers in destiny and fate would understand. I believe in both concepts, but perhaps not as firmly as I once thought I did.

The underlying message from the Emperor (the state/ government) to his family and by extension his people was that he had the ability to offer treasures, titles, and power but he held the control over what he would offer and the choices a person could make. This reminded me of how modern-day governments and politicians operate. They have the ability to give so much to their citizens but they limit the choices to what they want to offer because they have extreme power. Which when you think about it is a crazy notion. The government leaders, politicians, royal families etc., are only as powerful as we allow them to be and yet we allow them to dictate to us what is in our best interest. Ironic, no? Poignant when you think of the country of origin for this production.

Lastly and perhaps for me, the most truthful of all, the message that power was poison – a large dynasty was eradicated swiftly and horrifically to hold onto something not tangible.

oh! … that’s a wrap

Unlike any other film by Zhang Yimou, Curse of the Golden Flowers is neither an action film (although there is definitely action for those who enjoy the genre), nor is it a romantic adventure (the romance in this film is depraved) but is surely a melodramatic tragedy with Shakespearian nuances. An unbelievable amount of time, money, creativity, skill, and mastery went into the entire production. The end result is a feverish sexual intrigue doused with death-sliding assassins and soldiers clashing in a battle of swords and arrows. Simply spectacular. And the fact that good does not beat out evil this time, is an added bonus

This film will move you, it is hard not to be moved by the dysfunctional characters and their bitter end(s). Or perhaps you will be moved by the nauseating opulence? Perhaps the grand display of ancient Chinese culture?

You will like this film if you appreciate wuxia or martial arts. You’ll also appreciate this film if you happen to like dark tragedy and films with no happy ending. Blood covered chrysanthemum’s hastily cleaned up and replaced after the dirty deed is done, concealing the horror that unfolded.

oh! … tidbits

The Chinese title of the movie is taken from the line of a Qi Dynasty poem written by a rebel leader called Huang Chao. Loosely translated, the line reads, “When Autumn comes on Double Ninth Festival, my flower, the chrysanthemum, will bloom and all others will perish. When the sky-reaching fragrance permeates Chang’an, the whole city will be clothed in golden armour”.

The screenplay is based on Thunderstorm, a renowned Chinese play written by Cao Yu in the 1930’s.

This film has been the most expensive Chinese film to date, with a whopping budget of US$45 million, yes that is not a mistake, millions I tell ya!

Those millions allowed for the lavish construction of buildings for the palace at Three Natural Bridges within the Wulong Karst National Geology Park, part of a UNESCO world heritage site.

This film was chosen as China’s 2006 entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards, unfortunately, it never received the nomination.

It did win, Best Actress for Gong Li, Best Art Direction, Best Costume and Makeup Design and Best Original Film Song (Chrysanthemum Terrace) in 2007 at the 26th Hong Kong Film Awards.

The film grossed more than US$78 million worldwide in 2006, the third highest non-English language film that same year.

oh! … soundtrack

Curse of the Golden Flower

oh! … gallery

The photos in this gallery depict the extravagance of this production, from costumes through sets and accessories, every little detail was paid attention to. Simply breathtaking and opulent! Enjoy!

oh! … trailers


oh! … nooz

“Curse,’ ‘The Banquet’ picked as Oscar entries”, Associated Press via Chinadotcom, October 3, 2006.

(Chinese) Hong Kong Film Awards official homepage 26th Hong Kong Film Awards winner/nomination list

“Foreign Affairs: Oscar hopefuls circle the globe”

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