Kung Fu Movie Reviews

I’ve recently viewed three modern classics of Chinese cinema which had been recommended to me: Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower.

Hero had beautiful landscapes and gorgeous cinematography, but those landscapes were barren and sere – rather like the emotional context of the film. The story, while having many meritorious points, argues both directly and indirectly for unification under a sole authority. It is both authoritarian and patriotic – it’s easy to see how the cooperation of the Chinese government was acquired for the scenes at the Imperial Palace. It’s certainly a good film, and its political overtones don’t occlude the quality of the storytelling, but it is somewhat jarring. Strikingly, Zhang Yimou himself denied having any political message. It may be more a matter of baseline assumptions that inform the content of the film than an attempt to convey information.

House of Flying Daggers struck me as a more interesting narrative with even more gorgeous scenery. The plot twists were carried off better than those of Hero in my opinion. Both movies were strongly influenced by the traditional Chinese love of nature scenes, but those in Flying Daggers were lusher and not as stark. The plot is tragic, but in a way I found to be more satisfying. Brighter and cheerier scenes, an extraordinarily creepy brothel, and a haunting bamboo forest make this a memorable movie.

Curse of the Golden Flower… well, it’s something like “Titus Andronicus” crossed with “Hamlet”, only without the happy ending. I have never appreciated Aesthetic Minimalism as much as I did after viewing this movie’s representation of the interior of the Emperor’s court – it takes baroque elaboration and vivid color to the point of garishness. The royal family is doomed, treacherous, incestuous, and proud. Their machinations tear their world apart, and ultimately no one wins. And they might not even be able to bring themselves to realize it.

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