Sunday, 3 June 2012

Challenge Excepted: China

Back in Asia to China with the film, The Curse of the Golden Flower.

An amazing, extravagant epic, but this is what you would expect from the director of 'House of Flying Daggers' (a personal favourite) and 'Hero'. With a huge cast, fantastic costumes, set and a great story, it was nominated for 14 awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards and won Best Actress, Art Direction, Costume, Make Up Design and Original Song.

Like some of the other films I've seen recently, this film also had no Oscar nod, apart from Best Costume design.

The story is based on famous Chinese play, Thunderstorm (1934) and is transported to the Imperial court in ancient China, during the Tang Dynasty. The story begins on the eve of the Emperer's return from his latest military campaign. The Empress is anxious to see her second son, Prince Jai who is a general in the army, who also returns. Over the past three years she has taken Crown Prince Wan, her step son, as her lover. Wan however is in love with the Imperial Doctor's daughter Chan. The Emperor and Empress have led a loveless marriage, both trying to find a way to end it. The Empress has been making plans of rebellion while the Emperor, unaware of her plans has already taken action by getting the Imperial Doctor and his daughter to slip poison in the Empress's medicine, which she takes daily. All of these actions are carefully observed by the third son, Prince Yu.

The film is all about deceit, obsession, conspiracy and yes, accidental incest. Its what every epic historical drama feature. As I've already mentioned, the costumes and production design is breathtaking, even on a small screen. Every costume that the extras and main cast wears are amazing, so much detail and care is taken. The more impressive scenes aren't the fight scenes are dramatic parts but the simple (or not so) sequences where hundreds of extras appear on screen and complete their routine. Their purpose is show the wealth and power of the family and it is overwhelming. The film is set almost entirely within the walls of the Forbidden City and reminds me of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. Gormenghast is the castle, ruled over by the Earl and his family and they dwell there with thousands of servants. The castle is huge, this vast stone structure is treated like a god in some ways. The family is also corrupt and full of lies and anguish. The two stories and characters have things in common, the latter more so.

The story is frustrating, especially the events towards the end. A rebellion takes place but the ending acts like this never happened, and it left me with a pain in my stomach. I was annoyed there was no solution only further emotional pain and lots of death.

Like Jamon Jamon was acted very mellow dramatic, the acting in this film was very theatrical. It worked with the locations, the time period, the costumes and the story. The film has been described as not one of the director's, ZhangYimou, best. I agree because House of Flying Daggers is amazing every time I see it I am amazed.  I should mention that Gong Li is very good as the Empress, her emotions to all three of her sons are expressed very differently and she does this while acting strong and dying at the same time.

A brilliant film which I should thank my friend Dunia for making me watch it. For ages I kept saying I wasn't interested but she was very passionate about the film and so this was the perfect opportunity to see why she loved it so much.

If you loved House of Flying Daggers and Hero (not seen it but Zhang Yimou directed it too) you should definitely watch this film.

Next: Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, Japan and South Korea

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