A lesser work from the director of “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers,” “Curse of the Golden Flower” lacks the fable-contraption perfection of those films. In it, the Emperor circa 900 (Chow-Yun) is slowly poisoning the Empress (Gong Li, heartstopping in a push-up bra). She drips with sweat and plays for the balcony and, wow, she’s great.
The first half drags – “Hero” and “Flying Daggers” never drag – but that’s to set up the intrigue, who’s sleeping with whom, which prince is trustworthy, which corpse is still alive, so on and so forth. Watching men and women in museum costumes do passive-aggressive laps up and down their Technicolor castle is hypnotic.
And then ninjas come out of the ceiling. Oh yeah. The final battle is as fatalistic as anything else put to film; I guess Zhang wants to prove that we can’t expect good people to defeat the evil by evil means. The palace is a wonder of production design – the drafty stones and shadows of the “Lord of the Rings” movies has given way to an almost Broadway rainbow of golds, pinks, and jades.
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