Compared to his last two films, "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers," director Zhang Yimou's "Curse of the Golden Flower" is a bit of a puzzle.
It's opulent, dramatic and larded with the saturated colors for which he's known. It's also badly paced, pivoting between exciting moments and endless ones.
Imagine King Lear and Macbeth filtered through Dynasty. Set 1,000 years ago during China's Tang Dynasty, "Flower" is the story of a powerful emperor (Chow Yun Fat) and his dysfunctional family. Dad is trying to poison the empress (Gong Li), while she is plotting a palace coup with the help of one of her three sons. Another son - the crown prince - is in love with a servant. And the youngest son is seething with discontent. No one takes him seriously.
"Curse of the Golden Flower" is about what goes on behind the golden palace gates. Despite their wealth, none of the royals are happy. Old vendettas surface and warmth is a fleeting commodity. We don't like the characters, but we marvel at their ruthlessness.
Yimou gets fine performances from his cast, especially Gong Li as a woman who knows she's being poisoned, and the film is a visual tour de force.
Sadly, much of the intrigue comes in the form of whispered conspiracies. For every five minutes of battle footage there are 15 of verbal exposition.
Extras: A making-of featurette.
"Curse of the Golden Flower" is available on DVD and PSP from Sony. 114 minutes. Rated R. $28.95. Grade: B-