Curse of the Golden Flower

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Curse of the Golden Flower
Theatrical release poster
Traditional 滿城盡帶黃金甲
Simplified 满城尽带黄金甲
Mandarin Mǎnchéng Jìndài Huángjīnjiǎ
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Produced by William Kong
Zhang Weiping
Zhang Yimou
Written by Zhang Yimou
Based on Thunderstorm 
by Cao Yu
Starring Chow Yun-fat
Gong Li
Jay Chou
Qin Junjie
Music by Shigeru Umebayashi
Cinematography Zhao Xiaoding
Distributed by Edko Film
Release dates
  • December 21, 2006 (2006-12-21)
Running time 114 minutes
Country China
Language Mandarin
Budget $45 million
Box office $78,568,977

Curse of the Golden Flower is a 2006 Chinese epic drama film written and directed by Zhang Yimou.

With a budget of US$45 million, it was at the time of its release the most expensive Chinese film to date, surpassing Chen Kaige's The Promise.[1] It was chosen as China's entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for the year 2006;[2] but did not receive the nomination. The film was however nominated for Costume Design. In 2007 it received fourteen nominations at the 26th Hong Kong Film Awards and won Best Actress for Gong Li, Best Art Direction, Best Costume and Make Up Design and Best Original Film Song for "菊花台" (Chrysanthemum Terrace) by Jay Chou.[3]

The plot is based on Cao Yu's 1934 play Thunderstorm (雷雨 pinyin: Léiyǔ), but is set in the Imperial court in ancient China.


On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden chrysanthemum flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun-fat) returns from his various military campaigns with his second son and general, Prince Jai (Jay Chou). The Emperor has returned to celebrate the holiday with his family.

For three years, the Empress (Gong Li) and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit affair. Prince Wan secretly dreams of escaping the palace with his secret lover Jiang Chan (Li Man), the daughter of the palace doctor Jiang Yiru. Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows curious and then worried over the Empress's health and her abnormal obsession with golden chrysanthemums.

The Empress summons Prince Jai, revealing to him her plot of rebellion. She asks for his participation but Jai hesitates, saying that it would be difficult for him to take up arms against his own father. But after seeing his mother take a poisoned dose of medicine, he relents and agrees to participate. For ten days, the Emperor has secretly ordered the imperial doctor to add tiny amounts of a poisonous fungus into the medicine that the Empress takes several times a day; the doctor uses his daughter, Jiang Chan, to administer the medicine under his close watch.

Meanwhile the Empress, suspicious of the poison's presence in her medicine, had hired a woman-in-black to discover the identity and origin of the fungus, a mission that was successful and reveals the poison as the Persian black fungus. After rejecting the Empress's reward, the woman-in-black is abruptly captured by Prince Wan and taken to the Emperor, and it is revealed that she is Jiang Shi (Chen Jin), the doctor Jiang Yiru's wife, and Jiang Chan's mother – the Emperor's previous lover. After being branded and left for dead, she has since put her life into tearing down the Emperor's regime.

The Emperor decides to allow the woman to reconcile with her husband, promoting the doctor and sending him and his re-united family from the palace to serve as governor of a remote Region. Prince Wan runs after them to see Chan; from the information that Chan provides him with, he senses that the Empress is indeed plotting something, and hurries back to the palace. Confronting the Empress, already losing her mind, she admits her intentions and bluntly adds that she wants Wan to die and continue with her plan. Wan, deeply hurt by her remarks, stabs himself and is put under care.

The doctor's family are attacked by mysterious assassins, who kill Jiang Yiru. Chan and her mother flee back to the palace on horseback, unknowingly protected by troops sent by the Empress. As they interrupt the ceremony and demand in the Emperor and his family's presence why he wants them killed, the Empress reveals that Jiang Shi is actually the mother of Prince Wan, meaning his secret lover, Chan, is in fact his half-sister. Realizing this, a shocked and crazed Chan flees the palace screaming in horror with her mother chasing behind. Chan is cut down by the assassins and her enraged mother, despite her injuries, kills them before she is also slain herself.

The youngest son, Prince Yu, abruptly kills Prince Wan as they watch Chan and her mother flee, and tries to force the Emperor to abdicate the throne to him. He confesses that he also learned of the plot and his brother's affair with the Empress and acted in advance to gain the throne. The Emperor's assassins quickly eliminate Prince Yu's handful of soldiers easily, and the Emperor flogs Yu to death.

Meanwhile, thousands of warriors clad in gold and led by Prince Jai, wearing the embroidered flowers the Empress had been making, suddenly charge the palace, overpowering the Emperor's remaining assassins. They advance into the palace's gargantuan inner square, but are boxed in by a clever trap; the Emperor had full knowledge of the plot from Wan and had positioned his own forces to repel the assault. After a bloody battle the warriors are all killed, except Prince Jai, who stubbornly keeps fighting on until he is also overwhelmed himself. While his followers are bound and executed at the Emperor's orders, Prince Jai is brought before the remaining family. The courtyard is swiftly cleaned up with mechanical efficiency, as if the evening's events had never transpired, and the Festival begins at midnight as scheduled.

The Emperor offers to spare Jai on the condition that he henceforth personally administer the poisoned medicine to the Empress. Prince Jai refuses his father's order, apologizes to his mother for his failure and then suddenly commits suicide, his blood spilling on the Empress's medicine. The Empress lets out a furious shriek and slaps the plate out of the servant's hands. The film then ends with an image of the poisonous medicine landing on an engraved wooden chrysanthemum and eating away at it.


  • Chow Yun-fat as Emperor Ping (大王 Dàwáng "Emperor") - Corresponding Thunderstorm character Zhou Puyuan
  • Gong Li as Empress Phoenix (王后 Wánghòu "Empress") - Corresponding to Zhou Fanyi
  • Jay Chou as Prince Jai (Prince Yuanjie (王子元杰 Wángzǐ Yuánjié)) - Corresponds to Lu Dahai
  • Qin Junjie as Prince Yu (Prince Yuancheng (王子元成 Wángzǐ Yuánchéng)) - Corresponds to Zhou Chong
  • Liu Ye as Crown Prince Wan (Crown Prince Yuanxiang (太子元祥 Tàizǐ Yuánxiáng)) - Corresponds to Zhou Ping.
  • Ni Dahong as Imperial Physician Jiang (蒋太医 Jiǎng-tàiyī) - He is later Governor of Xuju and Commander of Chariots - Corresponds to Lu Gui
  • Chen Jin as physician's wife (Mrs. Jiang (蒋氏 Jiǎng-shì)) - Corresponds to Lu Shiping
  • Li Man as Jiang Chan (蔣 嬋 Jiǎng Chán, physician's daughter) - Corresponds to Lu Sife


The Chinese title of the movie is taken from the last line of a Tang dynasty poem attributed to the rebel leader Huang Chao, "On the Chrysanthemum, after failing the Imperial Examination" (不第後賦菊/不第后赋菊) or simply "Chrysanthemum":

When autumn comes on Double Ninth Festival, / my flower [the chrysanthemum] will bloom and all others perish. / When the sky-reaching fragrance [of the chrysanthemum] permeates Chang'an, / the whole city will be clothed in golden armour.[4]
(Original Chinese text: 待到秋來九月八,我花開後百花殺。沖天香陣透長安,滿城盡帶黃金甲。)

Due to the film's high profile while it was still in production, its title, which can be literally translated as "The Whole City is Clothed in Golden Armor", became a colorful metaphor for the spring 2006 sandstorms in Beijing and the term "golden armor" (黄金甲, huángjīnjiǎ) has since become a metaphor for sandstorms among the locals.[5]

Historical perspective[edit]

Buildings created for the film at Three Natural Bridges.

The primary source for the screenplay (co-written by Director Zhang, Wu Nan and Bian Zhihong) is Thunderstorm, a renowned Chinese play written by Cao Yu in the 1930s with its story re-worked (by Zhang) to transport it more than a millennium back in time.[6]

At the start of the film, text from the English-language version of the film states that this movie is set in the time of the Tang, in the year 928. However, the Chinese version of the film did not specify a time period. The film's published screenplay indicates it is set during Later Shu of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.[7] In fact, the year 928 AD does not belong to Tang Dynasty, which actually ended in 907 AD. The year is in fact in the period of the Later Tang (923 AD to 936 AD) of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. On the other hand, two placenames, Qingzhou and Suzhou, are mentioned in the movie, but they were in fact not under the administration of either later Tang or later Shu. It should be noted that the story in the film is entirely fictional and has essentially no relation to real history. There are also a number of other inconsistencies with established Chinese history. These include:[citation needed]

  • The use of nail extensions by the Empress was not popular during the Tang Dynasty. Nail extensions did become popular during the Ming Dynasty some six hundred years later.[8]


Critical response[edit]

The US release garnered a generally positive reception (although tepid comparing to the director's past works).

Richard Corliss of Time magazine praised the film's lurid operatic aspect and states: "this is high, and high-wire, melodrama...where matters of love and death are played at a perfect fever pitch. And grand this Golden Flower is."[9] Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times states: "In Curse of the Golden Flower Mr. Zhang achieves a kind of operatic delirium, opening the floodgates of image and melodrama until the line between tragedy and black comedy is all but erased."[10] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times describes the film as: "A period spectacle, steeped in awesome splendor and lethal palace intrigue, it climaxes in a stupendous battle scene and epic tragedy" and "director Zhang Yimou's lavish epic celebrates the gifts of actress Gong Li while weaving a timeless tale of intrigue, corruption and tragedy."[11] Andrew O'Hehir of Salon states: "the morbid grandiosity of Curse of the Golden Flower is its own distinctive accomplishment, another remarkable chapter in the career of Asia's most important living filmmaker."[12]

Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post writes: "Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower is a kind of feast, an over-the-top, all-stops-pulled-out lollapalooza that means to play kitschy and grand at once" and Hunter further states: "It's just a great old wild ride at the movies."[13]

On the other hand, Matt Brunson of Creative Loafing feels that the film was a poor reflection of director Zhang Yimou's acclaimed works of the past.[14] Bruce Westbrook of The Houston Chronicle though praising the film's spectacular visual, states "Visuals alone can't make a story soar, and too often this one becomes bogged down by spectacle..."[15] Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter states the film is "A disappointing misfire from a great director."[16] Gene Seymour of Newsweek states: "Curse of the Golden Flower is to the feudal costumed adventure what Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar is to the Western. Both bend their genres to the extremes of operatic grandeur with such force as to pull up just below the level of High Camp."[17] However Seymour states in the end that the film is overly melodramatic and ludicrous to absorb.[17]

The film received a score of 70 out of 100 from film critics according to the review aggregator Metacritic[18] and holds an average rating of 65% by film critics on the review ranking site Rotten Tomatoes.[19] Yahoo! Movies gave the film a B grade based on critical consensus.[20] It has grossed over $78 million worldwide.[21] It was also the third highest grossing non-English language film in 2006 after Apocalypto and Pan's Labyrinth.[22]


Besides starring in the film, Jay Chou has also recorded two songs to accompany the film, one titled "Chrysanthemum Terrace" (Chinese: 菊花台; pinyin: Júhuā tái), released on his 2006 album Still Fantasy and one included in his Curse of the Golden Flower (EP). The EP includes Jay Chou's song "Golden Armor" (Chinese: 黄金甲; pinyin: Huángjīn jiǎ).

Awards and nominations[edit]

Curse of the Golden Flower won four awards out of 14 nominations from the 26th Hong Kong Film Awards in 2007.

Category Nomination Result Ref
Best Film Curse of the Golden Flower Nominated [3]
Best Director Zhang Yimou Nominated
Best Actor Chow Yun-fat Nominated
Best Actress Gong Li Won
Best Supporting Actor Jay Chou Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Liu Ye Nominated
Best Cinematography Zhao Xiaoding Nominated
Art Direction Huo Tingxiao Won
Best Costume and Make Up Design Yee Chung-Man Won
Best Action Choreography Ching Siu-tung Nominated
Best Original Film Score Shigeru Umebayashi Nominated
Best Original Song "菊花台" (Chrysanthemum Flower Bed) by Jay Chou
from Still Fantasy
Best Sound Design Tao Jing, Roger Savage Nominated
Best Visual Effects Cheuk Wah Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zhang Yimou raises "Armor" at CCTV
  2. ^ "'Curse,' 'The Banquet' picked as Oscar entries", Associated Press via Chinadotcom, October 3, 2006.
  3. ^ a b (Chinese) Hong Kong Film Awards official homepage 26th Hong Kong Film Awards winner/nomination list Retrieved 2011-06-15
  4. ^ "Chrysanthemum - flower of honour". People's Daily, China, November 16, 2003.
  5. ^ The Word on the Street is 黄金甲 (huáng jīn jiǎ) webcast at Chinese Pod.
  6. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Curse of the Golden Flower: A Film Review by James Berardinelli". Reelviews Movie Reviews, 2006. Accessed 11 August 2009.
  7. ^ The novel Curse of the Golden Flower
  8. ^ Foong Woei Wan (17 December 2006). "Down mammary lane". The Straits Times. 
  9. ^ Richard Corliss (2006-12-10). "Holiday Movies". Time. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  10. ^ Jeannette Catsoulis (December 21, 2006). "Movie Review: Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  11. ^ Kevin Thomas. "'Curse of the Golden Flower'". Los Angeles Times. 
  12. ^ Andrew O'Hehir. "Curse of the Golden Flower". 
  13. ^ Stephen Hunter (2006-12-22). "'Golden Flower' Bursting With Martial Arts Fun". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  14. ^ Brunson, Matt. ""Foreign Affairs: Oscar hopefuls circle the globe". Creative Loafing Charlotte, 17 January 2007. Accessed 11 August 2009.
  15. ^ Westbrook, Bruce (December 22, 2006). "Looks beautiful, but wilts without plot to sustain it". The Houston Chronicle. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  16. ^ Kirk Honeycutt. "Curse of the Golden Flower". Hollywood Reporter. [dead link]
  17. ^ a b Gene Seymour. "Curse of the Golden Flower". Newsweek. 
  18. ^ Metacritic
  19. ^ Rottentomates
  20. ^ "Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)". Yahoo! Movies. 
  21. ^ Boxoffice Mojo
  22. ^ 2006 Worldwide Grosses

External links[edit]