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The Curse of the Golden Flower

Unspeakable secrets are hidden within the Forbidden City.

Zhang Yimou's "Curse of the Golden Flower" is a kind of feast, an over-the-top, all-stops-pulled-out lollapalooza that means to play kitschy and grand at once. The great Chow Yun Fat plays the Emperor Ping, home from the wars at last, eager to lose himself in the bosom of his loving family. Except he doesn't love them, and they don't love him, and everyone is busy plotting against one another. Like other family squabbles among the royals, such as World War I, this one kills thousands of people before it's all over. The emperor's wife (Gong Li), the Empress Phoenix, has a grudge against him: He's slowly killing her with poison, which is introduced to her on a daily basis by the royal surgeon (Ni Dahong). To get even, she is sleeping with the crown prince, who, as it turns out, is not her biological son but the son of a mysteriously vanished first wife. All this leads to the opening night of the Chrysanthemum Festival, which is also the night that all the plots come home to roost. Just when you think the ninja team of 60 will triumph, out comes a counter-army of a thousand. And just when you think the thousand will triumph, out come the counter-counter-army of 10,000. The movie substitutes spectacle for emotional intimacy, and Chow has been better; his immediately recognizable face is hidden behind a goatee, which to my eyes disguises his singularity. However, that all but concedes the film to Gong, who gives a grand, operatic performance, almost as powerful as Katharine Hepburn's in "The Lion in Winter." Knowing, violent, subtle, subversive, she's all the mad queens of all the literatures of the world melded into a goddess of fury with really long fingernails. It's just a great, old, wild ride at the movies. Stephen Hunter, Washington Post
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Directed by: 
Yimou Zhang
Running Time: 
Hong Kong/China
Chow Yun, Gong Li, Jay Chou
Screenplay by: 
Yu Cao (play), Yimou Zhang

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