Saturday: Curse Of The Golden Flower
Sunday:  Long Good Friday

CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER



A few years back the unexpected success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon led some independent film distributors – namely Sony Pictures Classics and the then Weinstein-controlled Miramax – to roll the dice on giving Chinese martial arts films relatively wide domestic releases, with varying degrees of success (although none would equal CTHD).  Curse Of The Golden Flower was the second such effort from Zhang Yimou, following 2004’s House Of Flying Daggers. But where House was very much in the vein of CTHD (if less accessible to Western sensibilities), Curse is an altogether different animal – even if Sony Pictures Classics’ marketing would have you believe otherwise.

For one thing, Curse takes place almost entirely within the Imperial Palace as a power struggle plays out between the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat), his second wife (Gong Li) and their three sons in the days leading up to the pivotal Chrysanthemum Festival.  For most of the film the action is very, very limited. The intrigue, double-crosses, incest, assassination plots, etc. play out slowly and steadily within the impossibly beautiful palace, all building towards an ending that you just know is going to be messy and spectacular – which it is.  (Although an earlier scene featuring a squad of masked assassins who do quite amazing things with ropes and grappling hooks is arguably the more stunning set piece.)

At the end of the day it’s a quasi-Shakespearean palace drama, and if that’s not what you’re looking for, then just skip the film or fast forward to the last 30 minutes or so.  You’ll be missing some incredible details – once in a while the movie pauses to show us the insane amount of work the army of servants has to do in order to keep the palace running, which I could have used more of – but you’ll still get a nice dollop of beautiful action.  And it will make your home theater system look and sound friggin’ awesome.  Grade: B.

LONG GOOD FRIDAY



“One of the greatest British crime films of all time!”  So I’d heard.  Alas, not so much.  From the synth-heavy opening titles music to the rather standard plot about a crime lord who just wants to go legit, it’s all rather dated and played out.  Even in 1982 it couldn’t have been seen as that original, not with the UK’s long history of quality crime films.  Which is not to say it’s a bad film; it’s entertaining enough, and has a few great moments (including a memorable sequence set at an abbatoire).  But mostly what it has is a terrific performance from a young-ish (he was almost 40) Bob Hoskins as the crime lord in question, which concludes with a close-up that Tarantino would ape many years later in Pulp Fiction.  And Pierce Brosnan has a bit part as a low-level thug that’s pretty amusing in a “Hey look!  It’s Pierce Brosnan!” kind of way.  In short – LGF is “timely,” not “timeless.”  Grade: B.