Dressing up extra nice to attend K.W. Chow’s On That Song! blogging event!
Curse of the Golden Flower is a film, not a song that was released in 2006. However, I’ve been sick for a while and missed two events, so I thought I’d cheat a little and
briefly share two songs from the film.
Curse of the Golden Flower had plenty of praise globally and was very well made. Here is an interesting tidbit for one of the awards it was nominated for (Jay Chou Studio discourages copying and pasting content). Here are some SUPER-DUPER famous people who are involved in making the film:
- Zhang Yi Mou is a super famous director
- Gong Li is a super famous actress and is Zhang’s girlfriend who always plays the leading female in his films
- Chow Yun Fat is a super famous actor for a long time
- Jay Chou, well need I say more about him? I’m a big fan of Chou’s but he’s only in several scenes
It’s about a Chinese imperial family set during the Tang Dynasty. There is plenty of drama in the family, including the distancing relationship between the Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) and the Empress (Gong Li). She gets sicker and sicker and Prince Jai (Jay Chou) is worried about her and her obsession with chrysanthemums by sewing all of these patches of golden spider chrysanthemums. Assassins are hired and do their jobs. In the end, there’s a rebellion against the palace. Guess who’s behind it. Official synopsis from Sony Pictures Classics.
Ok, enough about the film and moving on to the music! Jay Chou wrote the music and Vincent Fang wrote the lyrics, both for both songs.
Golden Armor — Lyrics
I have a liking to the opening of the song. It sounds indigenous (you know me, I like old stuff) and then Chou adds Western sounds, which goes great with it. I’m very drawn to the soothing melody.
I’m uncertain what genre this song is; I think it’s alternative (it would be great if anyone can help clarify. The link to the MV is on the sexy man). He raps for a small portion and doesn’t rap for the remainder. Chou also mixes Western and Eastern musical instruments in his music, and the Western instruments are more prominent in this song when he’s singing with the guitar and drums. (Fun fact: Chou is known for mixing Western and Eastern musical instruments in his music, and the results are super good, in my opinion anyway). I think this would be a great song choice for an air band if they don’t care what the lyrics say.
I super-duper love these lyrics! (Thanks Vincent Fang! I’m a really big fan!) It’s about the really big fight in the film. I like that Fang is being consistent with the use of comparisons except for the repeat, and I like most of the comparisons. Here are two examples:
The flag is like a rainbow
Hate stretches long and unbroken like fire
My favorite lines are from the repeat:
Blood dyes the armour
I wipe away the tears to kill
The whole city is full of chrysanthemum flowers
Whose kingdom will it be?
On top of the palace
The smoke signal and wind borne sand
Life and death is but
The scar of a knife
Reading this gives me chills. It’s so cool it fits the stylized performance and the rebellion. My absolute favorite line would be, “Blood dyes the armour.”
Chrysanthemum Flower Bed is more popular than Golden Armor, unfortunately. In my opinion, the music is much more fitting for the film, the lyrics, and for Chou’s voice as well for this song in particular.
He opens by playing his cello then the guzheng, and adds bits and pieces of other instruments, but primarily it’s the sound of the guzheng. Chou learned how to play the guzheng for the Chrysanthemum Flower Bed music video and finished in 20 minutes, then asked for song requests!
I was listening to this song before I read the translations and I love the way his voice sounds and that it trails at the best parts, and the music fits with his voice perfectly. I love that this song sounds like a lullaby to help me fall asleep at night. During the day, I would dance to it (contemporary style, on rare occasions, ballet). It calms me down when I’m in any negative mood. I sing along when I’m alone, lip-sync while I’m doing things, and hum with strangers around.
The subject is rather sad, which feels so fitting for the slow music, instrument choice, and his voice. I’m referring to the English translation since my Chinese isn’t advanced to begin with. I sum up the first part as pain and sadness is in the air. The clearest example is from the first three lines,
The light from
Carries a bit of hurt in the delicateness
*Whenever “you” or “her” is mentioned, it’s Prince Jai referring to his ailing mother, the Empress.
Another example is towards the end with just two lines,
My whole life on the paper
Has been blown into a mess by the wind
The imperial family is important enough to be written about in Chinese history, and the wind blows his life story to be forgotten. The papers are in a mess symbolizes the bad reputation. The messy papers also show one’s life story is not in chronological order anymore, meaning one’s life doesn’t make sense anymore.
Next is the repeat, which I sum up as something is amiss. The first four lines show a sign for something bad to come, the two middle lines show an obvious pressure, and the last four lines show a change on the individual level. For the sake of space, only the first four lines’ interpretations will be discussed. They read,
The chrysanthemum flower is ruined
Hurt all over the ground
Your smile has already turned yellow
The flowers fall, people are heartbroken
- Flowers as they are. The first two lines made me question how the flowers were ruined in the first place. So I imagine that they were intentionally damaged, which explains the second line in the quote above. If you’re someone who likes chrysanthemums and cares for them, then it does make your smile turn upside down that someone intentionally damaged them as a way to hurt you. The fourth line is tricky. If the flowers fall, then it can be assumed that they died or fell naturally. People are sad that the flowers’ lives have ended but they won’t kill themselves over the loss (unless they live for flowers).
- Chaos in the palace. Chrysanthemums might be China’s national flower.* If they do, it makes sense that chrysanthemums symbolize the imperial family. Something morally bad is going on in the palace (ruined), and the people are disappointed in the imperial family (hurt all over the ground). Nobody is happy. The imperial family is overthrown (flowers fall), rebellion/warfare ensues, lots of people die (people are heartbroken), and power is transferred.
- Foreshadows a battle. In this case, chrysanthemums are regular people. In the rebellion, soldiers are injured (ruined), and they’re hurt all over the ground. Your side isn’t winning so you’re not smiling. Soldiers die (flowers fall), so people are heartbroken, meaning the soldiers’ families are sad.
I would sum up the next part as nature and people are unhappy about the fighting. There’s a strong emphasis on nature (as there is in the first part). Only three lines are sufficient,
The sound of horse’s hooves is hysterical
I’m wearing martial attire
Roaring with the convulsions of nature
The first two lines show the fight has at least begun, and the horses are charging forward at full speed. Nature doesn’t approve or agree with the fighting so nature roars with convulsions.
Finally, the repeat. In this case, it’s the end of the song and the battle is being fought, and the line,
The night isn’t finished yet
signals that the battle isn’t over yet.
In my opinion, lyrics for both songs were artfully written. I greatly admire all of Fang’s scene-setting/imagery and symbolism (for this post) especially for Chrysanthemum Flower Bed. I also greatly admire him for his rhyming. [When I wrote lyrics for EACh, I aimed to emulate him with my low-level Chinese.]
* Chrysanthemums might be China’s national flower. I was researching this when I was still writing my novel and I found these:
- China has a national flower. Some sites said it was the chrysanthemum, some said it was the peony. Some said national flowers are rotated to reflect the seasons.
- China doesn’t have a national flower
- Confucius praises the orchid for some reason (there really is a reason, I just don’t remember it)
My conclusion: China loves flowers.