Curse of the Golden Flower

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For the Jay Chou extended play album, see Curse of the Golden Flower (EP).
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
Edko Film
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
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 (Chinese: 滿城盡帶黃金甲; pinyin: Mǎnchéngjìndàihuángjīnjiǎ) is a 2006 Chinese epic wuxia drama film written and directed by Zhang Yimou. The Mandarin Chinese title of the movie is taken from the last line of Qi Dynasty poem written by the rebel leader Emperor Huang Chao who was also the Emperor of the Qi Dynasty that was at war against the Later Tang Dynasty.

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.


Golden flowers fill the imperial palace on the eve of Zhong Yang. The Emperor (Chow Yun-fat) returns from his military campaign with his second son, Prince Jai (Jay Chou), in order to celebrate with his family.

For three years, the Empress (Gong Li) has had an affair with her stepson, Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), who was born from the Emperor's first wife. Crown Prince Wan is not interested in the throne and wishes to run away with his secret lover, Jiang Chan (Li Man), the daughter of the Imperial Doctor. Meanwhile, Prince Jai (the Empress's first son), becomes worried over his mother' ill health and wonders at her sudden obsession with golden flowers. The Empress reveals that she is planning to overthrow the Emperor, who has been poisoning her. Prince Jai agrees to lead the Empress's soldiers.

A mysterious woman informs the Empress that she is being poisoned with Persian Black Fungus, but immediately after making her report, Crown Prince Wan captures the woman and takes her to the Emperor. The woman identifies herself as Jiang Shi (Chen Jin), the wife of the Imperial Doctor. The Emperor is shocked when he sees her and decides not to punish her, in spite of having had her entire family killed shortly after his ascension. She reunites with her husband and daughter. The Emperor also decides to promote the Doctor to governor of the nearby province of Suzhou, so the Doctor and his family pack their things and set out.

Crown Prince Wan is sad that the Doctor's daughter is leaving. He runs after their convoy and speaks to her, and learns that the Empress has woven ten thousands of scarves adorned with chrysanthemum motifs, sending them to a general of the imperial army afterwards. Fearing that this might mark the beginning of some conspiracy, Wan hurries back to the palace and confronts the Empress, who confesses that she is planning a coup d'état. Out of shock and anguish, Crown Prince Wan stabs himself with a dagger and is placed under care.

The Doctor's family is betrayed and attacked by the Emperor's assassins. His servants and soldiers loyally try to fight them, but the Doctor is killed. The Doctor's wife and daughter flee on horseback and head for the palace. Upon arrival, they interrupt the Chrysanthemum ceremony and demand that the Emperor answer why he wants them killed. When he remains silent, the Empress explains to everyone that the Doctor's wife is Crown Prince Wan's mother, whom the Emperor discarded in the struggle for the throne. The Doctor's daughter and Crown Prince Wan have been half-siblings all this time. The doctor's daughter screams upon hearing this and flees the palace, where she and her mother are promptly cut down by more assassins.

Suddenly, the youngest son, Prince Yu, abruptly kills Crown Prince Wan with a sword, and he summons a group of his own soldiers to kill the Emperor and take the throne. He reveals that he knew about the Emperor's poisoning of the Empress, her affair with Wan and subsequent coup plans, and Wan's affair with the doctor's daughter. Declaring the rest of the family unfit, he plans to seize the throne himself. However, more of the Emperor's assassins descend from the ceiling and easily kill Prince Yu's soldiers. The Empress simply leaves the room as the Emperor proceeds to beat Prince Yu to death with his belt.

Meanwhile, ten thousand soldiers wearing golden armor and golden chrysanthemum emblems storm the palace, with Prince Jai in the lead. They easily overpower the Emperor's assassins and advance into the palace's inner square, trampling the golden flowers laid out for the ceremony. However, massive silver shields block their way in, and thousands of silver-armored archers appear on the walls surrounding them. The golden soldiers initially try to fight, but the wall of silver shields is impenetrable, and they are forced to retreat. They find the gates behind them blocked, and are shot down to the last man.

Prince Jai rises from the sea of dead bodies and is taken captive by the Emperor's soldiers. Behind him, the courtyard is cleaned up with mechanical efficiency by a legion of servants, with bodies being removed, floors being scrubbed and laid with carpets, and pots of yellow chrysanthemums replaced, making it seem as if the entire failed rebellion never even happened. At midnight, the Chrysanthemum Festival begins as scheduled.

The Emperor speaks with Prince Jai and the Empress at the terrace's ceremonial table. He expresses disappointment at Jai's actions, revealing that he was always planning to let Wan retire and make Jai his heir. When Prince Jai confirms that he only joined the rebellion because his mother was being poisoned, the Emperor offers to forgive his son, provided he serves his mother her "medicine" personally every day. Prince Jai refuses, apologizes to his mother for the rebellion's failure, and kills himself with a sword. The poisoned cup is still offered to the Empress, but she shrieks and slaps it away. The film ends as the spilled medicine is shown instantly corroding the table's engraved wooden chrysanthemum, referencing a Chinese proverb 金玉其外败絮其中; Jīn yù qí wài, bài xù qí zhōng, idiomatically translated as all that glistens is not gold.


  • Chow Yun-fat as Emperor Ping (大王 Dàwáng "King").
  • Gong Li as Empress Phoenix (王后 Wánghòu "Queen").
  • Jay Chou as Prince Zhai (Prince Yuanjie (王子元杰 Wángzǐ Yuánjié)).
  • Qin Junjie as Prince Yu (Prince Yuancheng (王子元成 Wángzǐ Yuánchéng)).
  • Liu Ye as Crown Prince Wan (Crown Prince Yuanxiang (太子元祥 Tàizǐ Yuánxiáng)).
  • Ni Dahong as Imperial Physician Jiang (蒋太医 Jiǎng-tàiyī) - He is later Governor of Xuju and Commander of Chariots.
  • Chen Jin as physician's wife (Mrs. Jiang (蒋氏 Jiǎng-shì)).
  • Li Man as Jiang Chan (蔣嬋 Jiǎng Chán, physician's daughter).


The Chinese title of the movie is taken from the last line of a Qi dynasty poem written by the rebel leader Huang Chao who was also the Emperor of the Qi Dynasty that was at war with the Later Tang Dynasty. Huang Chao had composed the poem "On the Chrysanthemum, after failing the Imperial Examination" (不第後賦菊/不第后赋菊) or simply "Chrysanthemum":

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 screenplay is based on Thunderstorm, a renowned Chinese play written by Cao Yu in the 1930s.[6]

The English language version states that this movie is set in the "Tang dynasty" in the year 928. The Chinese version doesn't 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] Neither the Tang dynasty (618–907) nor Later Shu (934–965) existed in the year 928, although another state named "Tang" — known as Later Tang in history — was, as well as other Chinese states Wu, Chu, Min, Southern Han, Jingnan and Wuyue, in addition to the Khitan-ruled Liao dynasty (known as just Khitan in 928). However, Later Tang rulers were known as "Emperor" (皇帝) and never "King" (大王), and of all the states mentioned above, only Chu, Wuyue, Min and Jingnan rulers could be called "King" by their subjects in 928.


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."[8] 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."[9] 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."[10] 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."[11]

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."[12]

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.[13] Bruce Westbrook of The Houston Chronicle though praising the film's spectacular visuals, states "Visuals alone can't make a story soar, and too often this one becomes bogged down by spectacle..."[14] Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter states the film is "A disappointing misfire from a great director."[15] 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."[16] However Seymour states in the end that the film is overly melodramatic and ludicrous to absorb.[16]

The film received a score of 70 out of 100 from film critics according to the review aggregator Metacritic[17] and holds an average rating of 66% by film critics on the review ranking site Rotten Tomatoes.[18] Yahoo! Movies gave the film a B grade based on critical consensus.[19] It has grossed over $78 million worldwide.[20] It was also the third highest grossing non-English language film in 2006 after Apocalypto and Pan's Labyrinth.[21]


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. ^ 国产大片 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. ^ Richard Corliss (2006-12-10). "Holiday Movies". Time. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  9. ^ Jeannette Catsoulis (December 21, 2006). "Movie Review: Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  10. ^ Kevin Thomas. "'Curse of the Golden Flower'". Los Angeles Times. 
  11. ^ Andrew O'Hehir. "Curse of the Golden Flower". 
  12. ^ Stephen Hunter (2006-12-22). "'Golden Flower' Bursting With Martial Arts Fun". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  13. ^ Brunson, Matt. ""Foreign Affairs: Oscar hopefuls circle the globe". Creative Loafing Charlotte, 17 January 2007. Accessed 11 August 2009.
  14. ^ Westbrook, Bruce (December 22, 2006). "Looks beautiful, but wilts without plot to sustain it". The Houston Chronicle. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  15. ^ Kirk Honeycutt. "Curse of the Golden Flower". Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on February 5, 2009. 
  16. ^ a b Gene Seymour. "Curse of the Golden Flower". Newsweek. 
  17. ^ Metacritic
  18. ^ Rottentomates
  19. ^ "Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)". Yahoo! Movies. 
  20. ^ Boxoffice Mojo
  21. ^ 2006 Worldwide Grosses

External links[edit]