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Before I start my post about the movie, I'd like to dedicate this review in memory of my grandmother who passed away in Malaysia last Friday. She would have greatly enjoyed this movie.
Once again a Chinese film was playing at our theater so of course my family had to go. Since the Hampton Roads area of VA is not considered a major marketplace to the movie industry, other than indie theaters we rarely get good foreign films. And since this is an Asian film we were all looking forward to it, Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li being two of our favorite Chinese actors. I have just two words for this movie though: Blood and cleavage. And there is a LOT of both.
Quick summary: Chow Yun Fat is the emperor, Gong Li the empress. There are three princes, the crown prince being the emperor's son from his first marriage. The emperor and the empress do not get along, she realizes that he is trying to slowly poison her through her medicine. On the night of the Chrysanthemum festival she plans to take revenge through the second prince with an army to overthrow the emperor. Unfortunately for everyone, things don't go as planned for this highly dysfunctional family.
I felt this movie to be very Shakespearean, almost like Hamlet especially with the ending. Almost like a movie version of a Chinese opera with the costumes and high drama. I never knew Chow Yun Fat could play the bad guy. In Crouching Tiger, he's the mentor, the hero. Here, he is a cold, brutal emperor who is bent on keeping control of his kingdom. He will do anything to keep this power even at the cost of his family. Gong Li SO does not look like she's 41. She has got to be one of the most gorgeous actresses out there. Most of the other Chinese films that have been released in the past few years have been rated PG-13, only implying that the person has been killed with little or no blood. "Curse" is rightly rated R with heavy battle scenes, lots of stabbings, blood spurts, and a very severe beating scene. To be fair though, except for certain scenes, I felt the new version of King Kong was more gruesome than this movie. As for cleavage, almost every single woman in this movie had have their chest hanging out! I don't know if that was the style at the time, but if it had been me I would have been tugging my shirt up constantly. How they ran or rode horses without popping out is beyond me. I felt sorry for the middle son, all he wanted to do was please both his parents and instead got caught up in their own fight. Interesting how both sides wanted to gain it all, but lost instead everything. The ending, like most Chinese movies, leaves you going "huh?" as you have to use your ideas to formulate what will happen next.
I really hope this movie gets nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, but I highly doubt it with all the other movies that have come out this year. (Prove me wrong Academy voters!) Or maybe Best Costume or Best Art Direction. Actually Gong Li for Best Actress would be wonderful but the odds of that are next to nil. Either way, if you can stand the violence this is one of the best films I've seen in a while. A very thought provoking character study in the lives of a royal family.