Curse of the Golden Flower Zhang Yimou

After the unqualified failure of Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, Zhang Yimou had nowhere to go but up. Thus we have the floridly ridiculous Curse of the Golden Flower, which is never credible but is also never boring.

Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li are the emperor and empress duking it out for supremacy; he’s trying to slowly poison her, she’s got the hots for her adoptive son, as well as a treasonous secret. Thus the stage is set for some of the most outrageous plot contrivances in any movie this year, including star-crossed, young lovers, scheming underlings, rope ninjas who fall from the sky and one big honkin’ battle scene that defies attempts at verbal description.

There’s no real substance to the psychedelically coloured film, which is every bit the CGI blockbuster that Pirates of the Caribbean is. But as fun as those ninjas are, their defiance of the laws of physics is somewhat disconcerting. But the straight face with which the tale is told jacks the camp value of the whole enterprise over the top and straight through the ceiling.

The late avant-gardist Jack Smith would have loved every frame of this way over the top romantic tragedy, with its lavish but phoney sets and pompous, declarative dialogue. Shakespeare this isn’t but it’s entertaining, and the eye-searing colours will burn themselves onto your retinas in record time.

There’s some sadness in the once great Zhang’s descent into big, dumb hokum like this, as he used to make moves that were rather substantial. But if he must make silly pop, make it this kind of grandiloquent nuttiness rather than the limp noodle that was his previous film.

(Mongrel Media)