Curse of the Golden Flower

Rated 4.0

In 10th-century Beijing, the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) is having medicine secretly administered to his Empress (Gong Li) that eventually will drive her insane, but she gets wind of his treachery and has a few tricks up her own delicately embroidered sleeve. Director Zhang Yimou (who co-wrote the script with Wu Nan and Bian Zhihong, from a play by Cao Yu) wastes no time setting up this palace intrigue; the movie weaves a splendidly lurid tapestry of conspiracy and bloodshed—courtly, veiled discourse in the imperial palace punctuated by black-clad assassins swooping out of the night sky, climaxing in a palace battle with seemingly millions of soldiers. Zhang invokes Shakespeare, but it’s a teasing invocation—this is less Shakespeare than Cecil B. DeMille. Still, showmanship is a kind of poetry, too.