FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
OVER THE TOP!
CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER is like a Tennessee Williams play with ninjas.
At the end of the film, there's that standard legal disclaimer that says even though this story is based on actual events and real people, some changes were made for dramatic purposes. Real people? Who do they think they're kidding? Any similarities between these characters and real people is strictly coincidental! Every character and every event in this film is blown so far out of proportion that you can't help but laugh... and that's not a good thing in a drama.
I knew we were in trouble at the very beginning of the film, when *thousands* of extras (either cheap Chinese labor or cheap Chinese digital work) march out of the castle and stand in perfect rows awaiting the arrival of the King (Chow Yun Fat) - but when everyone is standing at perfect attention in the courtyard a group of messengers (not one, a group) enters and whispers that the King is coming tomorrow (not today) and they should all go back to what they were doing. Hard not to laugh at that. There was a hit comedy album in the 1960s called THE FIRST FAMILY about John F. Kennedy that had a similar bit where a succession of servants pass the word that the Malayan Ambassador has arrived for dinner, and when the last servant tells President Kennedy he responds, "Tell him it's tomorrow night". Got a laugh in the 1960s, too!
After that we cut to the King (Chow) who has stopped at the Royal Hotel... overlooking the castle. Chow is dressed in this gold armor outfit that looks like a dozen of the top fashion designers came up with it right after they created that swan outfit for Bjork. In fact, the whole film looks like those fashion designers worked on it. It's downright gaudy. This film is production designer porn. Okay, when Chow sits down, he actually has a servant whose job is to straighten the back pleats of his armor so that the King's Royal Butt doesn't show. I snickered at this.
Back at the castle, the Queen (Gong Li) is sweating bullets - almost literally. Her pores are *gushing*. Then someone sounds about a dozen gongs and a parade shows up with the Queen's medicine. At least a half dozen people! And each one has a specific task. One person has a bowl with the steaming medicine. After the Queen drinks that, another hands her a bowl of water to wash the taste out of her mouth, and then another hands her a napkin... and different servants take all of this stuff away. It's as if the film is trying it's damnedest to impress you with all of these extras in their perfect outfits and precision bowl carrying. Trying way too hard.
Now, I grew up watching martial arts movies - mostly period samurai films... and not just those serious Kurosawa flicks. I’ve seen all kinds of period swordplay movies - some with Jackie Chan, some with a young Jet Li... some with guys you’ve never heard of. Lately, I’ve been first in line to see HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS and I have RAISE THE RED LANTERN on DVD. I love these movies... but GOLDEN FLOWER is so far over the top that it’s closer to a soap opera than a movie.
There are servants whose only job is to stand next to a beaded curtain and raise and lower it whenever the King or Queen or one of the three Princess looks like they may want to pass through. Everyone has an entourage, and even the entourages seem to have entourages! When one of the Princes walks down the palace's garish red and gold hallways, the crowd behind him barely has room to move. Oh, and there's a Chrysanthemum Festival in a few days, so an army of perfectly dressed people, each carrying a single potted flower, march with precision into the palace courtyard and place the flower in an exact spot so that the courtyard looks as if it were carpeted in yellow chrysanthemums. Then this army of flower-wranglers marches back wherever they came from. Somewhere, off camera, there are hundreds of buildings where all of these people live!
Because the story is basically a family drama that takes place almost entirely in the castle, it's trapped and has nowhere to go but over the top. Way over the top. In order to make the story bigger, they push everything so far over the line that it becomes funny. The story goes WIDER instead of DEEPER. Everything is big and operatic and unrealistic. We get a cast of thousands instead of a real story. And when we do get to the story... it's as overblown and exaggerated as the costumes.
Now, we want to tell stories about people in emotional conflict - but no one here is really in emotional conflict. All of it is just as external as the costumes. They may emote big, but it's without true feeling. Because everything is on the surface, they make the surface bigger. The cumulative effect of the overblown costumes and overblown production design and overblown soap opera plot (discussed below) sends this whole film over the top... and makes it into a cult comedy. Now, you *can* make a period film about all of the behind-the-scenes backstabbing in a royal family... Kurosawa did a great job of this in THRONE OF BLOOD (based on that Scottish play). Because Kurosawa kept the film gritty and realistic, and the characters and story simple and plausible, you don’t break out in laughter every time a character reveals that they are secretly sleeping with one relative while plotting to murder another relative. Kurosawa’s movie was about *one* attempted palace coup - one story - and he dug deeper into the motivations nd repercussions of that attempt. His story never veered into operatic territory. The plot wasn’t so soap opera convoluted that you needed a scorecard to remember who is sleeping with who. Plus, there are no big YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN "He... was... my... boyfriend!" moments. They keep it real... and the characters and story aren't way over the top...
SOAP OPERA STUFF
I mentioned Tennessee Williams, and his plays are a study in subtlety compared with CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER.
You may be wondering what the curse is all about... I'm really not sure, but I *can* tell you what the golden flowers are all about. The sweating Queen spends her days making *thousands* of embroidered scarfs, her shaking hands sewing golden threads in the shape of flowers. Is this an indication that she's losing her mind? How many scarfs can one woman wear? Well, in this film, that's not an easy question to answer, as people change outfits every five minutes.
One thing we know for sure about the Queen... she's having an affair with her stepson, Prince #1. Oh, and Prince #3 is listening at the beaded curtain, so he knows this secret... will he tell someone? Oh, and the Queen is in cahoots with Prince #2 to steal the throne from the King... which means Prince #2 is going to commit treason against his own father. And Prince #1, who seems a little fey, is not only sleeping with his stepmother... he's sleeping with a servant! How scandalous! And not just any servant, but the daughter of the Royal Pharmacist, who has a huge team of extras toiling night and day to make the Queen's medicine so that when that gong goes off and the parade shows up (this happens about every ten minutes throughout the film) the Queen can go through the medicine, water, napkin ritual. The Royal Pharmacist has a big secret, too - he's being bribed by the King (Chow) to add a little poison to the Queen's medicine... which may or may not be causing all of that sweating. You see, the King only married the Queen for political reasons... and is still in love with his first wife (ex-Queen) whose portrait hangs in the King's bedroom. His marriage to the woman who is secretly sleeping with his oldest son and plotting to overthrow him with his middle son is a sham!
But wait, there's more! The Royal Pharmacist, who is helping the King poison his wife and whose daughter is sleeping with Prince #1 and whose team of medicine makers probably has their own entourage... well, his wife has been imprisoned by the King who *branded her face*... but she escapes and warns the Queen that she's being poisoned. But this isn't just any Royal Pharmacist's wife with a face brand whose daughter is sleeping with Prince #1... she's also the long lost Original Queen whose picture hangs in the King's bedroom. Which means Prince #1 is sleeping with his own sister. And, well, all of the other stuff that comes from this reveal. This is one overly complicated family!
WIDER NOT DEEPER!
Again, instead of going DEEPER into the relationships, it goes WIDER with all of these silly complications. Instead of looking at the real relationships, it invents all kinds of crazy soap opera relationships. If you weren't laughing at the medicine parade or the entourages for entourages, these big moments where we find out that everyone is sleeping with everyone else would make you titter. That the film is overly serious just makes it more absurd.
But wait, there's more! Because somewhere Prince #1 is telling somebody something and somewhere else Prince #2 is mounting a coup... with thousands of soldiers. When these soldiers attack the Royal Hotel (I guess just for practice, Chow is in the castle by now) they are attacked by *another army* of dudes in designer red leather... and somewhere some Twirling Ninjas show up... I forget which side they were on. We aren't talking about your normal Jet Li movie Ninjas or those Chuck Norris movie Ninjas, these are *twirling* Ninjas. Instead of *fighting* they spin around for no apparent reason as they slide down ropes that are suspended from the sky.
Eventually Prince #2's army ends up in the palace courtyard smashing the flowers... oh, and they are all wearing those scarfs that the Queen made. That way they will know who is on their side... except they all wear matching armor that some team of fashion designers came up with after finishing that Bjork swan dress thing. Then, suddenly a thousand of the King's soldiers, in different matching designer armor, shows up! The King tells them to spare his son... and there's this huge battle. Not a battle between *people*, it's a battle between thousands of cheap Chinese extras or maybe cheap Chinese CGI extras. And after all of the soldiers with the scarfs are dead in the courtyard... Prince #2 is still standing. How he wasn't hit by accident is never explained... so you can't help but laugh.
But wait, there's more! An army of janitors march out and remove the dead soldiers, then remove the busted potted plants, then those perfectly dressed flower-wranglers march out of the doorways with brand new pots of chrysanthemums and put them in the exact perfect spot *again* so that the courtyard is carpeted in yellow flowers... and the flower-wranglers disappear again. Then everyone kills everyone using the most bizarre weapons (a gold belt). How over the top can you get?
My friend John Hill says that movies are simple stories about complicated people. This is an overly complicated story about people who seem to have simple greed and lust motivations - they are sleeping with *relatives* and plotting to kill other *relatives* but it doesn’t seem to really mean anything to them. The story goes *wide* but never goes *deep*. Our job as screenwriters is to dig below the surface to explore characters and motivations. The more grounded in real character, the less chance of going over the top into soap opera territory.
Go deep, not wide.
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I WRITE PICTURES!
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E BOOKS PAGE
E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of
text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there
will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES
MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD
Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.
FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
NAKED SCREENWRITING CDs
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THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
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