I never had any desire to read Arthur Golden's obscenely popular novel. At first, this adaptation confirmed my worst suspicions: a sumptuously filmed but middlebrow Hollywood take on a subject that deserves better. Still, despite a slow start (and hearing many of my favorite Asian actresses speaking in somewhat fractured English!), I have to admit the results are far from an abomination. For director Rob Marshall, this makes perfect sense as a follow-up to CHICAGO: its theatricality suits him well.

As a girl sold into slavery who blossoms into an improbable but fetching geisha, Ziyi Zhang is more than adequate--she even has a killer scene where she does a dance that rivals any of the fight sequences in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. It's also fun to see an evil Gong Li as Zhang's nemesis (even if she's a little old for the part), Best of all, however, is Michelle Yeoh as a demure, no-nonsense benefactor who takes Zhang under her wing.

Yet, despite this film's obvious Oscar aspirations, none of these women will likely get a nomination; nor will Marshall or the film (except probably for its cinematography and costumes). As breathtaking as GEISHA intermittently appears, it's mostly just surface--an exquisite, dazzling surface, to be sure, but one, unlike Marshall's previous film, without much of a dynamic dramatic arc (or a believable, well-conceived romance) to prop it up. Come for the fabulous kimonos; as for insight, don't expect more than what you'd find in your average fortune cookie (yes, I know fortune cookies are Chinese--just like most of this film's actresses).