Now in Cinemas: Reviews for June 21, 2007

Pathfinder and Curse of the Golden Flower

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

A murky, muddled, self-indulgent action flick, Marcus Nispel´s Pathfinder is an unofficial remake of a true classic, the 1987 Norwegian film by the same. And just like the director´s last film, a remake of the splatter classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the movie sacrifices the script – plot, characters, dialogue and all – for expressive visuals, giving us a nicely produced but entirely hollow film that passes as mindless entertainment but feels entirely unnecessary and somewhat insulting, showing no respect for the original film it´s taking away from. And yet, the film does provide some fun on a Conan the Barbarian – nah, make that Conan the Destroyer – level, but Nispel takes things much too seriously, draining out most of the fun along with the color, and directing with the feverish artistic flair of a music video. It´s all style, and no coherency – action scenes are so frantic and briskly edited that one often has little idea of what, exactly, is going on. Random bloodshed is all well and good, but sometimes it´s nice to know who´s getting their head chopped off, and who´s doing the chopping.

Directed by Marcus Nispel. Starring Karl Urban, Russell Means, Moon Bloodgood, Jay Tavare, Clancy Brown. Written by Laeta Kalogridis, based on the 1987 film written and directed by Nils Gaup.
IMDb link
General plot is the same as the 1987 film, with a few cosmetic differences. A Viking boy left orphaned after a failed expedition into the Americas is taken in and raised by Native Americans; years later, the boy – now called Ghost and played by Karl Urban – faces off against a new wave of Viking intruders who have come to pillage and plunder and brutally, graphically murder any of the natives they come across; and just why are they doing this? ‘Cuz they´re Vikings. Cue action and violence, as Ghost´s community is slaughtered and our hero is captured and forced to lead the Vikings to more people to slaughter – but he has some tricks up his sleeve. And what the original film thrived on, the cleverness of the main character while sabotaging his captors, is ridiculously thrown together here as Vikings fall through thin ice, fall off narrow cliffs, and – incredibly – our hero instantly causes an avalanche with a catcall. Russell Means appears as the title character, mostly incindental to the plot, while Moon Bloodgood (with a horrible accent) stars as his daughter and the token love interest. Urban, a talented actor perhaps best known as Eomer in the Lord of the Rings films, simply lacks the screen presence of an action star, despite featured roles in films like this and Doom. Borderline offensive portrayal of Vikings isn´t exactly revisionist (it was similar in the original, but that was based on Lapp legend; this is based on a Dark Horse comic). Nice to look at, and not entirely bad, but watch the 1987 version instead.


Curse of the Golden Flower
Directed by Zhang Yimou. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Ye Liu, Dahong Ni, Junjie Qin, Man Li, Jin Chen. Written by Yimou, from the play by Yu Cao.
IMDb link

Visually stunning if emotionally overwrought period piece is slow-moving at first but eventually achieves the grandeur of a Shakespearian tragedy. 10th Century China, the inner workings of the royal family: the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) is slowly poisoning his wife, the Empress (Gong Li), who in turn is sleeping with stepson, Crown Prince Wai (Lie Ye). Two other brothers add further complications: Prince Jai (Jay Chou), torn between mother and father, and youngest Prince Yu (Qin Junjie), stewing with jealousy for his brother. This is a kind of attempt by the director to bring the carefully structured storytelling of his earlier classics with the melodrama and martial arts of his more recent films. While it isn´t entirely successful – the film certainly doesn´t reach the height of Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou or To Live – I did enjoy it more than Hero or House of Flying Daggers. It´s absolutely gorgeous to look at, with outstanding use of color and fluid, lingering cinematography that perfectly matches the flow of the story. I fear, however, that the film is destined to please no one; it does suffer in comparison to the director´s previous work with Gong Li, and fans of Hero are likely to be entirely disappointed by the slow story and near-complete lack of martial arts. Still, a beautiful film well worth seeing in spite of its perceived flaws.

Note: film is playing only in a Mandarin version with Czech subtitles in Prague cinemas.


TIP: Catch an advance screening of Steven Soderbergh´s star-studded Ocean´s Thirteen on Thursday 21.6, at Palace Cinema Slovanský Dům´s ‘Black Box´. The film opens wide in Prague on July 5th.

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