This film from Zhang Yimou is stylishly soap operatic and visually resplendent, based on actual events, yet much less compelling than other martial arts endeavors from the director like Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha) stars as a Chinese Empress in 928 learning of a deadly plan by her husband (Chow Yun-Fat). She desires much for potential heirs like the Emperor's preferred Jai (Jay Chou) and cocky younger Yu (Qin Junjie).
The wrinkling script congealed by Yimou and two others involves an internalizing Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), supposedly the offspring of a lauded, now deceased first wife. A potential showdown looms as the Emperor may know what Wan's been doing behind closed doors.
The lavishly mounted production is abundant in hues and breathtakingly scaled to catch the enormity and detail of a royal family's existence as a military shows its might.
The pointed, if flawed tale reflects a family gone horribly bad. Li chews up many of her scenes in and around golden terraces of chrysanthemums with a conflicted sense of going mad for good reason. Yun Fat exudes an icy machination throughout while Chou makes the most out of a very pressured young man.
Yimou tries to make all the lustful, murderous elements harrowing, as a climactic confrontation demonstrates. Yet, Curse of the Golden Flower is afflicted with ham-fisted moralizing that is too pat and passionate for its own good. Astoundingly lush, the extremely textured production can't shake out the aches and pains of corruption fit for an episodic mini-series.