The fabulously talented Jeannette Catsoulis writes with as much wit, insight, breadth of expertise, and spirit as the best of the films she reviews, and often even more deliciously enjoyable. This week, her New York Times review of "Curse of the Golden Flower" is everything film criticism should be -- smart, funny, provocative, wise, and thoroughly entertaining. I'd love to quote it all, but in the spirit of the art form fortunate enough to capture her attention, consider these quotes previews of coming attractions.
With each new martial-arts drama, the Chinese director Zhang Yimou widens the distance between his adult self and his dismal youth during the Cultural Revolution, pushing himself to ever greater heights of ambition and experimentation. Energy and excess — of color, symbolism and emotion — are his antidotes to memories of uniformity and repression. His extravagant stories celebrate unfettered artistic expression as if it were a gift his Western counterparts have long taken for granted. In “Curse of the Golden Flower” Mr. Zhang achieves a kind of operatic delirium, opening the floodgates of image and melodrama until the line between tragedy and black comedy is all but erased.
Though embroiled in familiar themes of fraternal rivalry and Freudian jealousy, Mr. Zhang is aware of the ridiculousness of man’s passions in the face of his impermanence. One of the film’s loveliest and most allusive sequences focuses on the royal cleanup crew as it restores order after the bloodbath, rinsing away gore and burying stains beneath a fresh carpet of golden chrysanthemums. In the wake of this shadow army, the battle is erased and the dead are swept aside like so many dust bunnies.
Since his debut in 1987 with “Red Sorghum” Mr. Zhang has made more controlled films but never one that’s more fun. With “Curse of the Golden Flower” he aims for Shakespeare and winds up with Jacqueline Susann. And a good thing too.
And like a movie that reserves its final punch for the credit sequence, even her parental advisory is worth reading:
It has flying assassins, bloody battles and a mother who, like, really loves her sons.