Plot: What’s it about?
Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-Fat) rules over his court in the Forbidden City, but all around him, those he trusts have plans of their own. His chosen concubine Empress Phoenix (Gong Li) is supposed to be his lover and devoted to his will, but instead she shares herself with Crown Prince Wan. She does so to escape the Emperor’s iron hand, which keeps her tight control, while Wan has his own motivations for his actions, beyond simple lust. He might be involved with the Empress, but his heart belongs to a simple, but sweet handmaiden, the daughter of the Emperor’s physician. The Emperor also deals with the handmaiden, giving her instructions to deliver a special medicinal tonic to his concubine and make sure she imbibes. The Emperor’s other two sons also have business of their own, as his youngest Prince Yu strives to make a name for himself and his son Prince Jai has just returned from an extended absence. As the Chrysanthemum Festival approaches, will anyone discover the lies and deceit within the royal court and if so, who will pay the price?
After the success and acclaim of Hero and House of Flying Daggers, following those much beloved films had to be daunting for director Zhang Yimou. After all, the bar had been set so high for his work, even a good movie would seem lacking by comparison, so Curse of the Golden Flower had some big shoes to fill. By comparison to the films I mentioned before, this one isn’t on the same level, but on its own merits, it is a very good motion picture. The ratio of action to drama leans in favor of drama, which is good for some and not so good for others. I don’t mind the drama, but I expected more martial arts action, so I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. But to the film’s credit, when the time does arrive for the action to bust loose, it delivers and then some. I found the storyline to be solid, but too complicated at times. I wouldn’t call the plot hard to follow, but it twists and turns a lot, sometimes a little too much. Even so, Curse of the Golden Flower is a well made movie with stunning visuals and some great action, so this Blu-ray edition is recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Curse of the Golden Flower is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a solid high definition effort, a nice improvement over the standard release, but not on the same level as the elite high definition transfers out there. I won’t blame the transfer, as it could be the source material, but the visuals are a touch inconsistent. Some scenes look excellent, with vivid detail and depth, while others are pedestrian and don’t stand out. This isn’t a big problem, but the movie has some lush visuals, I hated to see any kind of loss of detail in the image. On the up side, colors look bright and bold and contrast is spot on, so aside from some minor inconsistencies, this is a very good treatment.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original Mandarin soundtrack is preserved here, via an uncompressed PCM 5.1 option. The audio here is simply off the chain, a dynamic mix that really delivers. The surrounds work overtime to keep up, as sounds race through the channels and make us feel like we need to be dodging kicks ourselves. The presence in the action driven scenes is superb, this is as close to the fight as you can get without having to feel the pain. Not all the scene display that kind of depth of course, but even the more reserved scenes seem to have good surround presence. So whether the movie is loud or laid back, the audio experience is great and really helps set and maintain the movie’s atmosphere. This disc also includes Mandarin and English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, as well as subtitles in English and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Secrets Within is a featurette that runs just over twenty minutes, but this is promotional fluff from start to finish. So don’t expect more than the typical fluff interviews and on set footage and you won’t be let down. The only other supplement is three minutes of footage from the film’s Los Angeles premiere.