Film: Curse of the Golden Flower
A 2006 Chinese film directed by Zhang Yimou
and House of Flying Daggers
fame), Curse of the Golden Flower
follows the imperial family in the Forbidden City and the various wheels within wheels
they have going against each other.
Near the end of the Tang dynasty, The Emperor
has been away at war for three years, along with his second son, Prince Jai
. They return to the Forbidden City as the Chrysanthemum Festival approaches, and soon plots, old secrets, and family dynamics all come out of the woodwork. The emperor is thinking of naming a new successor. The crown prince, Wan, is having an affair with his stepmother
and the imperial doctor's daughter. The doctor's daughter, Chan, has been adding a new ingredient to the empress's medicine. The empress, believed to be suffering from anemia for years, is suddenly getting much worse. Not to mention she has taken on a mountain of embroidery that she insists must be finished in time for the festival. And no one pays any attention to the youngest prince, Yu.
As secrets start to be revealed, Jai finds that he must choose between his parents. If he will remain steadfastly loyal to his all-powerful father and emperor, or if he will honor the wishes of his beloved and powerless mother.
The film is notable for its exquisite use of color, Mind Screw
inducing visuals and epic battles, as well as Chow Yun-fat
and Gong Li
starring as the royal couple. It managed to pick up an Academy Award nomination (for costuming). It's also one of the few Chinese films to use a visual metaphor for the Tiananmen Square uprising and get away with it
. It is often compared with Legend Of The Black Scorpion
Contains examples of:
- Abdicate the Throne: The empress's endgame for her husband.
- Absolute Cleavage: Nearly all the female characters in this film.
- Action Mom: Chan's mother is pretty badass.
- Advancing Wall of Doom: The palace is very well protected against invasion.
- Anti-Hero: The Empress.
- Archnemesis Dad: The emperor sees it as maintaining the natural order of the family.
- Armor-Piercing Slap: To the emperor of all people. When the doctor's wife is brought before the emperor, she smacks him when he gets indignant about her marrying the imperial doctor... after the emperor had her family killed and left her for dead. For just a moment, he actually looks ashamed.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Everyone with a position of authority is more badass than the individual soldiers. They seem to be badass in perfect relation to their level of authority, with the Emperor being the toughest guy in China.
- Badass: The emperor wins a sword-fight without even getting up.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Prince Yu, the meek, gentle third son, murders his brother out of nowhere and demands that the emperor advocate and put him on the throne.
- Blood from the Mouth: When someone is stabbed in the torso, this happens.
- Break the Cutie: Chan's last ten or so minutes on screen result in her literally running screaming into the night.
- Broken Bird:
- The imperial doctor's wife.
- The Empress as well, as she does her best to appear cold and calculating, but she is terribly afraid and alone inside.
- Brother-Sister Incest: Chan and Wan, though they don't know it. Whoops.
- Cain and Abel: Yu kills Wan out of jealousy. Played with in that Yu is the youngest.
- Calling the Old Man Out: This happens all over the film, and is generally ignored.
- The Coats Are Off: When the emperor gets serious.
- Color-Coded Characters: The Empress has red-clad guardsman as well as a golden army of rebels. The Emperor has black-clad ninja-esque guards as well as a silver army.
- Conflicting Loyalty: Jai is caught between his duty to his father and his love for his mother.
- Conspicuous CG: Prince Jai and the Emperor's armies specifically.
- Costume Porn: There's plenty of, but the Empress takes the cake.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The golden army does pretty good, killing all the ninjas without much trouble. Then they run into the Imperial Guards, the doors behind them slam shut and the giant shields start moving...
- Deadly Decadent Court: Deadly enough to kill off every major character except the Emperor and Empress.
- Determinator: The empress. Even after she knows her plot will not succeed, she goes through with it anyway.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: After the golden army is defeated, the bodies are cleared away and the smashed flower pots are replaced with fresh ones, making it appear that nothing happened.
- Doomed Moral Victor: Jai.
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Or I'll beat you to death with it, Yu.
- Downer Ending: You could see from the beginning that this story wouldn't have a happy ending. Major death and misery is foreshadowed from the start. Wan figures out Chan is his half-sister, and Chan promptly gets killed along with her mother. Yu kills Wan out of jealousy, the Emperor then beats the Yu to death, Jai attempts a coup, but fails spectacularly and commits suicide, and the Empress goes insane.
- Driven by Envy: Yu, realizing that he will never get the same love and respect his brothers get unless he takes it by force.
- Driven to Madness: Implied. At the end, the empress completely loses it once she sees all her hopes and her last, favorite child die before her eyes. Also his blood is in her medicine, and she's expected to drink it anyway.
- Driven to Suicide: Twice, one botched. Jai kills himself so he won't have to poison his mother or be executed painfully.
- The Dutiful Son: Jai, and this is a serious problem when your parents are against each other.
- Dysfunctional Family: Very much played for drama.
- Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: The Empress is perhaps the only character who never does any actual fighting.
- The Evil Prince: Subverted with Jai, who tries to take over the throne only to save his mother. Played straight with Prince Yu
- Extreme Doormat: All three of the princes, in their own ways. Wen is best able to map the political webs of the palace, but he's also Weak-Willed and low-key with his own opinions, letting his parents toss him around in their struggles for power and preferring love affairs and personal happiness to actually resolving the situation. Jai is a mighty warrior and a dutiful son, but he ultimately lets his parents move him around rather than act on his own initiative. And Yu just sort of fades into the background. Yu is the only one who breaks out of this mold in the end, but his pathetic coup only serves to demonstrate why his parents regard him as The Unfavorite. And, ironically, the only person he managed to kill with it was one of the few family members who actually gave a damn about him.
- Extreme Melee Revenge: After the Emperor's youngest son kills the heir to the throne, his father pulls off his massive solid-gold belt and beats him with it, continuing to beat his corpse long after he's dead. His creepy little laugh doesn't help.
- Fanservice: Chinese historical epics rarely have this much constant, gratuitous cleavage. Chan's bodice does heroic duty.
- Failure Is the Only Option: But the chrysanthemums are still going to bloom once.
- Foreshadowing: This conversation in the first few minutes of the movie basically sets up everything.
- Gambit Pileup: The climax of the movie.
- Gambit Roulette:
- The Emperor knew everything. Your scheme? He was on to it from the start. Your accomplices? He was the one who let your letters get to them. That time you stubbed your toe? He was watching!
- Despite this, it's clear that there were a few elements he failed to predict, especially the death of all three of his sons, especially his heir.
- Genre Savvy: Wan seems to pick up on political plots long before most characters even guess something is strange.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The massacre of the golden army at the end certainly looks reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: This is at least an attitude present in the story. Whether or not the empress is actually somebody to be feared in the end, her husband and the crown prince are perfectly willing to call her mad and dangerous.
- Gorgeous Period Dress: Hey, it's a movie about the imperial China.
- Happy Marriage Charade: The emperor and empress hate each other, but politics force them to keep up appearances. Even their sons, who knew their parents didn't see eye to eye, are shocked at how deep the rift is.
- He Knows Too Much: The emperor states outright that this is why he ordered the deaths of the Imperial Doctor and Chan.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The emperor's determination to maintain absolute control over his family only ensures that the entire family rebels, leaving him with no sons or successor.
- Honor Before Reason: Jai knows that he has no chance going up against his father, but he considers it his duty to his mother to try anyway.
- I Know You Know I Know: Not that this stops anybody from going through with their plans.
- If I Can't Have You: This is what appears to be behind the empress's dislike for Chan. Though the part where Chan is helping to poison her probably doesn't help.
- Impossibly Cool Clothes: To match the impossibly cool decor of the Imperial Palace. The climax also involves soldiers armored in silver and gold.
- Improbable Weapon User: The Imperial Doctor uses his large golden spatula to defend his family from Imperial Ninjas. It doesn't go very well.
- Something of an aversion, as he does attack and defend himself quite successfully until two fatal thrown blades to the back and then a suicide charge to buy his wife time to escape.
- Induced Hypochondria: Played for drama, and used as a form of political schemes and domestic abuse. The empress doesn't believe she is ill, but try telling anybody else that.
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja: Although the film is set in China, the Emperor's black-clad guardsmen are obviously inspired by cinema ninja.
- Jerkass: The Emperor is perhaps one of the biggest jerkasses ever.
- Knight Templar Parent: The emperor, so much.
- Laughing Mad: The Emperor after his third son's death.
- Law of Chromatic Superiority: The Empress's red-armored guards are one of the two groups of soldiers that can take on the Emperor's ninjas, the other being Jai and the captains of his golden army that we see later in the movie.
- Lonely at the Top: Implied. The emperor had his first wife banished and (presumably) killed, though she was the woman he really loved. At the end he loses all of his sons, his first wife is dead, his second wife is mad, and he's all alone.
- Lonely Rich Kid: Every one of the princes is this.
- Love-Obstructing Parents: The empress isn't having Chan's relationship with Wan.
- Maid Corps: The Imperial Palace is staffed by regiments of beautifully gowned young women.
- Mama Bear: The First Empress. It doesn't work.
- Man of Wealth and Taste: The emperor. Everything he wears is gold, elaborate, and immaculate.
- Missing Mom: Wan's mother died when he was very young, and he doesn't remember her. Subverted. The whole story is a lie.
- Momma's Boy: Jai is very devoted to his mother, but this speaks to his fine moral character instead of being a loser.
- Nonchalant Dodge: The emperor is not impressed with his youngest son.
- Not Blood Related: The Empress and Prince Wan are stepmother and stepson, but the squick is still very much present in their relationship.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: The empress knows something is strange about her medicine, but she pretends not to know.
- Yu pretends he doesn't know what his family gets up to, until the last minute.
- Of Corsets Sexy: One of the first shots in the movie is a line of lady servants getting their corsets cinched up. The empress also wears a corset-like garment (see the page image). There are a lot of heaving bosoms in this movie. A lot.
- Offing the Offspring: Prince Yu falls victim to this. Jai almost does as well, until the emperor decides to spare him. For a price.
- Oh Crap: All the time, whenever someone finds out about a plot. Or that someone else knows about their plot.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Everywhere, particularly between characters who hate each other. Usually the subtext is some kind of I Know You Know I Know.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Nearly fatal injuries will not get you out of family functions in this film. Wan makes a failed suicide attempt. He's still showing up at the festival, for appearances.
- The Paragon Always Rebels: Jai is the clear choice to be the next emperor, and he is the one who leads an army of ten thousand soldiers against the emperor. He is still the hero of the story, though.
- Parental Favoritism: The emperor has a soft spot for Wan, his only son with the woman he really loved. The empress prefers Jai, who is fiercely loyal to her. This is played with some in that the emperor thinks Jai is more fit to succeed him and the empress is sleeping with Wan and clearly has some non-motherly affection for him.
- Parental Neglect: No one pays any attention to Yu.
- Perfect Poison: Averted with the Emperor using a poison that must be consumed every day for two months to become effective.
- Poison Is Corrosive: The Empress flinging the poisoned tea after the climax of the movie, the splash somehow instantly corrodes the table's engraved wooden chrysanthemum.
- Psycho Serum: The poison is designed to drive the empress mad, not kill her.
- Pyrrhic Victory: The Emperor. Sure, he won, but lost pretty much everything he gave a damn about in the process, and the ending suggests that he's now going to be Lonely At The Top.
- Rain of Arrows: Part of the Curb-Stomp Battle.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The emperor gives one to Jai, who gives one right back. The emperor reveals that he was going to make Jai his heir, and that they specifically talked about Jai not trying to take what his father didn't give him. Jai replies that it was never about power, but because the emperor was so cruel to the empress.
- Redshirt Army: Every single time a new force of soldiers appear, someone else will show up that will wipe them out, and then get wiped out by the next guys.
- The Reveal: Several in a row. Most dramatically, the Imperial Doctor's wife is actually the Emperor's first wife and the Crown Prince's mother.
- Royally Screwed Up: The Empress is having an affair with the Crown Prince, and it all gets worse from there.
- Sanity Slippage: The effect of the poison.
- Scenery Porn: In all of its technicolor, rainbow, golden, Imperial Palace glory.
- Secret Keeper: The doctor and his daughter Chan are the only ones who know what is the secret ingredient in the empress' medicine.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Jai is the manly one to Wan and Yu's sensitive guys.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Everyone but the Emperor and Empress have died by the end. No one has achieved anything they set out to do.
- Slipknot Ponytail: The emperor's comes undone during what can only be described as the most epic slap on film. (He's the one performing the slap)
- Something about a Rose: This is the effect of the golden chrysanthemum the empress has sewn onto a robe for Wan. The romantic implications, among others, make him extremely uncomfortable.
- Stepford Smiler: The whole Royal family.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Wan and Chan, because he's the Crown Prince and she's only a lady in waiting. And most of all they are siblings.
- Surprise Incest: Poor Wan and Chan
- Take a Third Option: Prince Jai kills himself rather than be executed or have to give poison to his mother.
- Tragic Dream: The empress just wants to be free of her husband's absolute power over her.
- Tragic Flaw: Jai is deeply loyal to his mother. It is touching and admirable, and also a major component of the tragedy.
- Tragic Hero: Jai.
- The Unfavorite: Prince Yu. No one notices or cares about him. He literally stabs his eldest brother in the back in the climax, accusing his father of hating him. His father immediately beats him to death.
- The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask: The empress.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The emperor doesn't say it directly, but you know nothing good is going to happen when the doctor is suddenly sent away.
- You're Insane!: Said word for word by the Emperor to his son in the English dub.