All that glitters is not good

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am

Mainland director Zhang Yimou's mega-budget costume action drama, Curse of the Golden Flower, boasts a strong cast of Chinese stars, and a frighteningly glittery set.

The film, adapted from writer Cao Yu's classic play Thunderstorm, is a story set in a Chinese royal court about 2,000 years ago. Veteran performers Chow Yun-fat and Gong Li play the king and queen while pop sensation Jay Chou and mainland heartthrob Liu Ye play the princes.

The members of this imperial family seem to do very little. All we see the king do is prepare a medicine with which he is slowly poisoning the queen.

The queen meanwhile is planning a mutiny with her favourite son (Chou), dragging the king's ex-wife into her murderous plot, while developing a love affair with her stepson (Liu). This is a dysfunctional family that needs psychotherapy.

But their lunacy is forgivable given that the place in which they live is apparently designed to drive people crazy. Everything - from the shiny walls and roofs to their glittering wardrobes, and the heavy armour they casually wear to family gatherings - is made of gold.

The film is almost blinding - every frame is flooded with glaring yellows and golds that will repulse anyone who has the slightest sense of taste. If it's difficult to sit through this for two hours, spare a thought for the poor actors who had to sit there every day during filming.

The action is therefore a relief to both the characters and the audience. Most family tragedies end with a bitter fight as the victims vent their anger on each other.

This is the case with this imperial family, except that the fights - choreographed by Ching Siu-tong - are more spectacular than usual, as they involve ninja-like warriors. Chou's involvement is almost comical, as he appears to to have been dragged out of bed onto the battlefield.

As the movie progresses, you find yourself wondering what has happened to Zhang, who previously directed such insightful films as Raise the Red Lantern and The Road Home. This film is proof that good artists should never trade their ideals for gold.