Love triangles, political intrigue, murder, coups, battles big and small, Zhang Yimou's "Curse of the Golden Flower" has it all-- maybe too much, actually.
If you've seen Zhang Yimou's other films in the genre, "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" then you know what to expect. Stunning photography, sets, and costumes, a plot full of twists and turns, crosses and double-crosses, and, of course, a bit of kung fu thrown in for good measure.
"Curse of the Golden Flower" is by far the prettiest of his films. Every scene inside the Forbidden City is an explosion of gorgeous color. Every character is decked out from head to toe in intricate costumes of silk and gold.
There are less action scenes than in "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers", but the final action sequence is bigger than anything that appeared in the first two, and easily rivals the beautiful chaos of the Spartan/Persian battles in "300".
But don't let all these visual delights distract you from the subtitles. The story is quite complex, with literally every named character in the film having his or her own independent backstory and agenda, each of them key to understanding the events that preceded and follow.
This is a dense film, and I'm guessing a second viewing would be required by many to either understand the whole of complex story or the fully appreciate the visual artistry, or both.
But this density is also a liability. So many characters must split the 2 hour run time that it's hard for any one of them to be fully fleshed out.