Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
Original title: Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia
Hong Kong/China, 2006. Beijing New Picture Film Co., Edko Films, Elite Group Enterprises, Film Partner International, Standard Chartered Bank. Screenplay by Yimou Zhang, based on the play Lei Yu by Yu Cao. Cinematography by Xiaoding Zhao. Produced by William Kong, Weiping Zhang, Yimou Zhang. Music by Shigeru Umebayashi. Production Design by Tingxiao Huo. Costume Design by Chung Man Yee. Film Editing by Long Cheng. Academy Awards 2006.
The visual splendour that one has come to expect from Zhang Yimou’s recent turn towards costume epics is up to and nearly beyond par in this latest film to follow his wonderful Hero and House Of Flying Daggers. Sadly, the mundane soap-opera plot doesn’t arouse the same interest that the previous films did, leaving a bunch of very talented actors swimming in light and colour for two hours without ever engaging our sympathy. Li Gong is exceptional as the sickly Empress of the Golden Dynasty who reigns as second wife to the hard-bitten Emperor (Yun-Fat Chow) and weaves intrigue among their three sons after years of suffering from anemia whose cure, which he forces upon her, is deadlier than the disease. The Prince Regent, the Emperor’s son by his first wife, is in love with one of the Empress’s ladies-in-waiting despite the danger it brings upon both of them, both from their violation of class rules and the jealous ire of his stepmother, with whom the son has also had a love affair. The Empress then turns her attentions to her own firstborn and hatches a plot to get even with her husband by the time of the grand festival of chrysanthemums. There is no end to the physical beauty, and it does manage to wrap itself up in a mildly involving, satisfying climax, but throughout it is flat and monotonous and the characters don’t really jump off the screen at any point. Still, it’s amazing how much the insanely beautiful Li can do with so little.