China, Later Tang Dynasty, 10th Century.
On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns unexpectedly with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou). His pretext is to celebrate the holiday with his family, but given the chilled relations between the Emperor and the ailing Empress (Gong Li), this seems disingenuous.
For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit liaison. Feeling trapped, Prince Wan dreams of escaping the palace with his secret love Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor’s daughter. Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows worried over the Empress’s health and her obsession with golden chrysanthemums. What we come to find out is that she has 10,000 eunuchs working day and night making these ornaments. The flowers are markers for rebelling soldiers to distinguish them from the normal imperial army i.e. the queen is planning a bloody coup. Not to be outdone, the Emperor harbors equally nefarious plans; the Imperial Doctor (Ni Dahong) is the only one privy to his machinations. When the Emperor senses a looming threat, he relocates the doctor’s family from the Palace to a remote area. While they are en route, mysterious assassins attack them. Chan and her mother, Jiang Shi (Chen Jin) are forced back to the palace.
Amid the glamour and grandeur of the chrysanthemum festival, ugly, incestuous secrets are revealed. As the Imperial Family continues its elaborate charade in a palatial setting, thousands of golden armored warriors charge the palace. They don’t long as the emperor has already figured out the queen’s plans and has his own imperial army waiting for the rebels. The queen and her stepson’s army is routed by the emperor’s forces. Indeed the emperor has constructed a huge moving wall that literally crushes the rebelling soldiers. This turns literally into a blood bath as all of the rebelling soldiers are slaughtered the only one taken alive is the prince who is dealt with by the emperor himself.
In one of the last scenes, thousands of eunuchs move to the courtyard where the rebels were slaughtered and within minutes clean up the blood and replace it with rows and rows of potted chrysanthemums making it look as if nothing had happened.
This is one hell of a film. Chow Yun Fat does an outstanding job as the brutal emperor playing his role to a perfect T. The costumes and set are also out of this world. Watching the film you get a peek into the opulence of the Forbidden City and you can almost feel the silk robes through the screen.
The film had a 45 million dollar budget all of which was well spent. However this movie is not for the faint of heart. There is some pretty graphic violence and topics like incest arise during the course of the film. It is also not a short movie but worth watching if you have a couple of hours. You will never look at chrysanthemums the same way again after viewing Curse of the Golden Flower.