Curse of the Golden Flower (Zhang, 2006)

What happened to the Zhang of Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou, To Live, or even Not One Less? His latest trilogy of period piece martial arts movies constitute one of the most drastic and frustrating shifts a director has made, both stylistically and thematically. While Hero and House of Flying Daggers at least attempt some stabs (pun intended) at character, Zhang’s latest Curse of the Golden Flower gleefully rejects substance or plot for “beautiful” visuals. Not only is Curse a disaster in terms of three act structure, but it’s embarrassing to watch icons like Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li stoop to such cheese filled levels. Anyone who’s seen Zhang’s early masterpieces knows the man can blend stunning on location mise-en-scene with heartfelt and tragic characters. But Curse, apparently Zhang’s benchmark of digitally enhanced fight scenes and melodramatic close-ups, is a disavowal of any sort of humanity, cause and effect logic, and modern day allegory (at least Hero had the latter). It is, in effect, a fluff piece, an indulgent look at motifs and themes already overplayed in the mainstream. After the strenuous two hour running time finally ends with one last spurt of awfully fake blood, one can only hope Zhang has unleashed all of the pent up flimflam which has obviously overwhelmed his work. Please, for the sake of your once devoted followers, try going back to your roots and tell a goddamn story.

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