Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pretty Golden Flower

Sometimes, pretty is not enough.

Despite the tremendous beauty of his films, Zhang Yimou has NOT proven himself as an action-film director to us yet. Raise the Red Lantern is a tremendous (if melodramatic) film, but both Hero and House of Flying Daggers failed to deliver real stomp-down action scene goods. Neither live up to the standards of films like King Boxer or The Magic Sword, that's for sure. Nor do they carry the wild abandon of Swordsman II or Dragon Inn.

But they are very, very pretty. And The Curse of the Golden Flower looks to continue that tradition, at the very least. And thank heavens Yimou has gotten past his Zhang Zhiyi infatuation. Seriously, Yimou, she's just not that good. Going back to Gong Li makes us love you more.

The trailers are starting to intrigue me. Ninja-rappelling always works for me, and Chow Yun-Fat in Tang Dynasty dress is a hoot. Since it seems not so much a kung-fu movie and more of a war movie, maybe Yimou's stately style will be more suitably showcased. Nothing's ever certain, of course. But Gong Li took that piece of crap Miami Vice and made it her own -- which I found kind of disorienting, since I always think of Miami Vice as being about Crockett and Tubbs, but hey, I'm happy to watch Gong Li out-act everyone else in the picture. And she wasn't showing off nearly as much cleavage there as she is here.

If you're going to make a pretty movie (which clearly you are, if you're Zhang Yimou), starting off by putting Gong Li in front of your camera is a good way to start. Yimou's problem for the last few films has been finding a story that DESERVES the level of prettiness he's giving it. And casting Zhang Zhiyi. Seriously, dude, what were you thinking? But anyways, in storytelling you have to EARN the qualities of your story that you emphasize. If you write it in verse, you'd better not only write good verse, you better be telling a story that NEEDS verse for its telling. Hero and House of Flying Daggers both lacked much weight to them -- even though they purportedly told stories of great significance. But the thing is, you have to earn your significance, too. You can't just say, "This is the story of how China was formed," and expect your audience to go, "Okay, then. We'll make sure to be very worked up about all this." You have to get them worked up about it through your storytelling. The story of how China was formed can be either exciting or painfully tedious, depending on the telling.

So while it's nice he makes such very pretty films (and they really are very, very pretty), what's the point? Well, in a couple of weeks the Golden Flower unfolds, so we'll see where Zhang Yimou has gotten to, and where he's able to take Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat. But he'd better tell a story that deserves all that prettiness.