I watched this film purely because I was so amazed by the previous films of Yimou Zhang. You kind of go into the film expecting something epic, with grand fights and amazing colours, and while this film delivers on the colours front, there isn't really much else that you would expect.
The first half of the film dragged substantially, I wondered if there would ever be any actual entertainment. One thing you can count on from wuxia is that you pretty much have to suspend belief in feasible plots and chains of events to get any enjoyment out of the movie, but the beginning was pure plotline - and while it wasn't too far fetched to believe, it just wasn't interesting. Worse still, it is all set inside the confines of an imperial palace and so you get no breath-taking scenery of the likes that graced Hero and HOFD.
Towards the end, a rebellion occurs and finally the epic fighting is upon us and it truly is epic. The final battle is a meat grinder like nothing I've seen before. The devastation is amazing. But afterwards...the film just kind of ends.
The relationship between Emperor and Empress was confusing for me, I had no idea why he wanted to poison her. I also had no idea why the emperors favourite son turned so quickly against his dad...then told him of the rebellion so that he could form a proper defense...then lead the rebellion against him anyway? Furthermore, even though she knew her medicine was poisoned, how could the emperor not have justified killing his wife on the same night that he had lost each of his sons? This film gets 6/10 because of the epic battle, everything else is substandard.