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The Curse of the Golden Flower 

Mark Palermo gets an eyeful.

The Curse of the Golden Flower has at its centre a familiar idea: Beneath the face of esteemed social roles lies deceit and torment. Director Zhang Yimou illustrates this premise on a breathtaking canvas.

Like many great filmmakers, Yimou (continuing with the period Hong Kong epics of his Hero and House of Flying Daggers) begins with a thematic idea, and then constructs his movie around it. The Curse of the Golden Flower, about the royal family unspooled by secrecy during China’s Later Tang Dynasty, delivers melodrama with an operatic scale. That Yimou maintains this scope, with two-thirds of the action set within the palace, is testament to the attention given to the film’s unique look. The surreal, heavy use of red, gold and blue creates an impressionistic rainbow-coloured world— one Zhang lavishes with other memorable sights. At one point, assassins descend on cables from all corners of the sky, like an army of Spidermen.

The character dynamics carry the moral scrutiny of a Shakespearean tragedy. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) feeds the Empress (Gong Li) a poison every night. He says it will cure her madness, when really it’s bringing her further into insanity and closer to death. Li’s frail, indignant close-ups carry the weight of a once powerful and beautiful woman unhinged. Theatrical drama becomes large-scale cinema. It’s a spectacular take on family ties that bind so tight they’re cutting off circulation.

Arthur and the Invisibles

It’s easy to halfway admire the misfired Arthur and the Invisibles on the grounds that it isn’t afraid of developing a personality. It carries a distinctive tone and visual effort. It isn’t Happily N’Ever After.

Luc Besson’s first largely animated foray adapts his own series of children’s novels, maintaining the director’s whimsically French take on Hollywood formula. Besson reaches to the nerdy, self-empowerment of the kid fantasy adventures that dented the market place a decade before Harry Potter. In a setup out of The Goonies, Arthur (Freddie Highmore) seeks a hidden treasure in his grandparents’ backyard that can be sold to save their house. This necessitates him shrinking and joining in the grass-jungle cartoon world of the Minimoys.

Like George Miller with Happy Feet, Besson’s live-action work background gives Arthur and the Invisibles a notably different style than most animated films. Frequently directed like a big-budget action film, it’s rarely boring to look at.

It’s only, curiously, the live action scenes that are completely charmless. A subplot about Arthur’s parents could have been excised completely. The animated Minimoys, who resemble an amalgam of troll dolls and The Dark Crystal’s Gelflings, are given the same big-eyed centre frame close-ups Besson used on Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element.

It’s the movie itself that lacks discovery. A “small people can do big things” message is articulated, but Arthur’s adventure doesn’t build thematic ground. He has no arc; he never learns anything concrete about other people that he can take back to the human world. Even while Arthur lightly romances the Minimoy Princess Selenia (voice of Madonna), Besson doesn’t develop the inter-species relation for its unorthodox potential. He keeps things too frantically paced, both in the speed of the action and the dialogue. As a result, the movie has no time to breathe. Events are finished before the magic sneaks through.

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