Susan Granger reviews “Curse of the Golden Flower”

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Yellow chrysanthemums splash the screen in director Zhang Yimou’s cross between a martial arts epic and soap opera-like melodrama about class and power struggles.

In the Tenth century Later Tang Dynasty, there’s an undercurrent of discontent behind the massive red doors of the Imperial Palace. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, the Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou), to celebrate the holiday – and to be sure that his estranged wife, the ailing Empress (Gong Li), continues to take daily doses of her special herbal medicine that the Imperial Doctor (Ni Dahong) has secretly laced with a Persian fungus that will make her insane.Intrigue thickens since she’s having a clandestine affair with the Emperor’s oldest son from a previous marriage, Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), who then betrays her with Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor’s pretty daughter. Suddenly, a mysterious woman appears, telling the Empress of the duplicitous plot against her. Meanwhile, the third and youngest son, Prince Yu (Qin Junjie,) has his own ambitions. Amid the dysfunctional family chaos, the Empress diligently embroiders golden chrysanthemums – which take on an ominous significance when she attempts to stage a coup.

Best known for “House of Flying Daggers” and “Hero,” Zhang Yimou, along with Wu Nan and Bian Zhihong attempted to adapt one of China’s most acclaimed plays, Cao Yu’s “Thunder Storm,” about the disintegration of a wealthy industrialist’s family. But it’s Yimou’s cinematographer Zhao Xoadomg, production designer Huo Tingxiao and action director Tony Ching Siu-Tung who dazzle with opulent palace settings and acrobatic, CGI-enhanced swordplay. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Curse of the Golden Flower” blossoms into a sumptuous 7. It’s lurid, lavish eye-candy.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.