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Dysfunctional families aren’t a modern day phenomenon, and Curse of the Golden Flower illustrates just how bad things can really get.  Incest, intrigue, poisoning, jealousy, power plays, murder.  Oh, and did I mention ninjas?  Yeah, ninjas.

It’s the Tang dynasty in China, and the Empress’ heath has taken a sudden turn for the worse.  She’s been drinking an herbal, medicinal tea for ten years, under orders of the Emperor, but she begins to suspect foul play.  A strong woman, she still finds herself helpless to fight her powerful husband.  Still, women have their ways, and the Empress plots with her step son (who has been her lover), and her eldest son to break the Emperor’s iron grasp on them all.

The plot is beautifully told in its intricacy, but the real draw of the movie is the jaw dropping, opulent portrayal of Chinese royal life.  I’ve been to the Forbidden City, but seeing it decked out in vivid tapestry made it all the more impressive.  Versailles looks a veritable shack in comparison.  The royal family is awash in gold and ornament, and a host of servants follow them about, ready to assist with the smallest of need.  The whole thing seemed almost alien.  The Emperor, in spite of his strong physique, was often carried around, so his feet never were soiled by the ground, his personal physician attending him at every moment.  During the climax, two armies battled in the enormous courtyard area with an unbelievable death toll, and at the end, servants raced in to haul the tens of thousands of dead away and replace the millions of chrysanthemums that had been destroyed in the melee.  While the clean-up occurred, the royal family sat down at their ceremonial dinner table for their own personal battle.  It was surreal to see that many lives lost in a blink, without even an acknowledgement.  As though human lives were plentiful and disposable as Kleenex.

I loved the movie.  Loved the excess, the amoral political jockeying.  Enjoy The Tudors?  Well, Henry the VIII could learn a thing or two from Emperor xxxx.  Five stars, even with the ninjas.  Or maybe because of the ninjas.

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