Curse of the Golden Flower/Umebayashi

February 15, 2007

Yimou “House of Flying Daggers” Zhang directs Chinese stars Yun-Fat Chow and Li Gong in an illicit tale of the Tang Dynasty in the 10th Century. The costume design is spectacular, so much so that it has been nominated for an Oscar in 2007. The overall amount of money spent in the production is impressive, but this film is about a dysfunctional imperial family and not yet another martial arts film. Yes it has action, spectacle beyond belief, and a cast of a thousand, but this is not the main focus of the film, so please don’t be mislead by the trailers that you might have seen. This really has a good storyline to it and it is told quite well. One gets the impression that the Chinese are spending more time on the storytelling and at least in this film it shows.

You will hear few surprises if any in the Umebyashi score. His work is quite good, straightforward, professional, and what your ear wants to hear to go along with a film of this nature. The choral work, complemented with excellent timpani and other percussion, are quite a strong point and the timpani especially got my attention from the very first listen to this score. “Shadow and Escape” is an excellent example of using the percussion to create the track! “Mother and Jai” begins with the wordless female chorus and this segues us to the orchestra and then to the orchestra and the chorus in an extremely churchlike elegy. It’s quite touching. “Fight of the Sickle Troops” is another track featuring the timpani complemented by slow long lower string chords in a minor key. Both the “Opening” and “Tai-He-Song” are very chinese sounding both with chorus. The “Opening” is female and the latter is very strong religious overtones by a powerful sounding male chorus. One of my favorite musical forms is the adagio and “Behind Pageant” is a very pretty one with just the complement of choral in it. Excellent piece. “Huang Jin Jia” is another bold chinese sounding track with male chorus. “Curse of the Golden Flower” with its poignant flute is as good a track as I have heard in quite awhiile. As stated earlier, there are no surprises, but the soundtrack is so well recorded and professional sounding that one can’t not sit up and take notice of the material. There is no strong or even weak melody to grab onto, merely a series of landscape tracks, yet these seem to be more than enough to carry the score. Those days of the Korngold melody appear to be over with. Still what Umebyashi has crafted is quite strong as not only a soundtrack to a film but as a separate listening experience.

The orchestra, engineer, mixer are not named but whoever did it performed there job well. The miking (placement and type) captured the timpani in a way that other engineers perhaps might want to stop and listen to! No Umebyashi didn’t come thru with any groundbreaking material yet while it is not different it is different. Well worth looking into.

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