Despite the flaws: non-Japanese stars, inconsistent, unintelligble accents, the film using English as the primary language, and the plot being overdone Hollywood-style, the only saving grace here is the pleasing, colorful visuals.
I haven’t read the book, and have no intention to. If the screenplay is in any way a near-loyal adaptation of it, that’ll definitely convince me to skip it. The plot was far from original, even far from a fresh retelling of the popular impression of geisha-hood: young girl from impoverished family gets sold to a geisha house, gets separated from her sister, gets mistreated by the veteran top-geisha, becomes a Cinderella-slave to the geisha-family, fairy godmother-geisha from a rival group grooms her to be best-geisha-ever, young girl falls in love, and so on. A tad too familiar? Take out Zhang Ziyi, the credible cinematography, the overwhelming moviepress publicity, and somehow squeeze Steven Segal in there (not a far-fetched idea, really) with 10 minutes of action scenes, its going straight to videolandia.
Its painful to see Gong Li deglamorized, speaking in her non-native language this way. Her old Zhang Yimou-directed epic dramas offered so much. Her Wong Kar Wai-directed role in Eros (the only really good part in the three-sectioned film) did depict her as the has-been, youth-lost temptress, similar to what’s seen here in Memoirs, but she was Chinese there, in both character and speech.
Zhang Ziyi was, surprisingly, seen only during the latter half of the film (find out how she practiced speaking English here), and, cuteness aside, she does a good job, but not a great one. I’m still longing to see her in something closer to The Road Home, or at least something more contemporary (no, not in the vein of Rush Hour 2; maybe 2046).
Oh (spoiler) I wouldn’t have lasted through the credits if the film ended with the lead couple slapped with old-people makeup, and lovingly recalling how they struggled, just to be together; I was actually half-expecting that.