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Portrayal of Ancient Chinese Dynasties in the Film “The Curse of the Golden Flower”: Critical Analysis

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Ancient Chinese dynasties often includes sons who fights for the throne of their father and they would do anything just to get it. In the film “The Curse of the Golden Flower” which was made in 2006. Emperor Ping (Chow Yun-fat), Empress Phoenix (Gong Li), Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), Prince Jai (Jay Chow), and Prince Yu (Qin Junjie) are the main characters of the film. The film covers the Chinese culture of the Tang dynasty movie and it was directed by Zhang Yimou. Who is an award-winning director and has directed multiple Chinese films mostly about intimate oppressions meaning most of his works include people that are treated as slaves by someone who is more superior. He has a lot of awards namely The Golden Lion, Bear, Rooster silver lion, and a lot more. He has a total of twenty-one awards and he has been winning this awards since 1985 to 2018. The film: The Curse of the Golden Flower) earned a total of $78,568,977 but it is one of the less-earning movies he had made and the most earning movie is the “Great Wall.” The scope and limitation that we would focus more on under the cinematic aspect are the lightings and the sound effect. Under the dramatic aspect would be the shots of the camera and the acting of the actors and actresses. Under the literary aspect would be the symbolism and the characters of the film.

We argue that the women characters are bound by the power of the Emperor and are his slaves.


  1. Emperor Ping: The Emperor who is the most superior being in the film. He has all the power that he can use to control the other characters.
  2. Empress Phoenix: The Empress and the wife of the Emperor. She is the mother of Prince Jai and Prince Yu. She has sickness anemia which is the reason of her shaking.
  3. Crown Prince Wan: The eldest son of the Emperor and he is the only son that the Emperor had with his first partner. He and Empress Phoenix has a secret relationship which the Emperor later knew and is the reason for the poisoning of the Empress.
  4. Prince Jai: The Middle son of the Emperor. He is the leader of the 10,000 golden army which was later defeated by the Emperor’s army.
  5. Prince Yu: The youngest son of the Emperor. He always knew that he was the least favorite son and he receives minimal attention from the family mainly the Emperor. In the end, He wanted the throne of the father so he had his own squad of the army and was later defeated by the ninjas hired by the father. He was later seen laying in the floor while his father was slapping his back.

Cinematic effects

The director manipulates the characters with numerous stares and wild, sound effects. The vibrant rainbow color of the walls makes the interior of the palace more unique and relaxing and the open field that has several golden flowers (chrysanthemum) filling the entire courtyard is really unique. The main eye-catching color in this film is the brightness of the pure gold between the Emperor and the Empress making it shiny for the eyes of the audience. The colors of the dress of both the emperor and the empress balance the color of the palace in which it makes the film more beautiful. The majority of the film is focused on the palace that is composed of mostly gold and red. The director Zhang Yimou, uses the primary colors red and yellow throughout the film to portray the intensity of the characters. Throughout the film, gold was the most common color that was used. Each color has its own meaning, red symbolizes good fortune, power, danger, and blood/war while yellow symbolizes loyalty, honor, and happiness and gold symbolizes love and wisdom. These symbolisms are based on the beliefs of the Chinese people which makes the film more believable. The genre of the movie is action in which the movie has a lot of actions that took place and war is under the action genre in which it was evident in the last part of the movie in which the army of the son fought with the army of the father.

The sound effects that were used in the film was very thrilling especially when the empress was about to drink the medicine in every two hours. The sound perfectly matches the acting and the movements of the actors. The dialogue that was used was Chinese because the actors came from different places that has the language Chinese being the mutual language between them. In the film, it might be a bit hard for audience that came from foreign countries to understand the dialogue but they added subtitles to the film helping the audience from foreign countries to understand the film and helping them know the culture and the history of ancient Chinese dynasties so overall watching the movie does not need the knowledge of knowing Chinese language and knowledge of ancient Chinese history. There were not many conversations in the film in which it can give you a longer time between lines if you’re learning Chinese. Due to this aspect of the film, it can also be the right material for the audience to learn Chinese. The lighting was also perfect because it showcased all the scenes in which the audience watched with extra care. It showed everything ranging from the facial expressions of the characters to the small details in the palace.

Dramatic effects

To achieve the shot when the armies was facing each other, Zhang Yimou used a long shot that captures long distances. The size of the courtyard is the same size of a football field which meant it was difficult to frame the shots without using the long shot style. The camera used was strapped to a small remote-controlled helicopter so it captured the full field. He also used the close shot in which it captured the facial expressions of the characters. The director did not showed the audience on how big the palace is straight away but he showed it by using another way by opening three huge doors to tell the audience that the palace was huge. The acting of the characters was well thought off. The actors are well known making their acting very good and smooth and it did not disappoint the audience.

In China, chrysanthemums are often given to elders for longer life, and based on the movie the chrysanthemum festival was at the 9th day of the 9th month in the lunar calendar. In the film, the chrysanthemum that the Empress was knitting in the cloth symbolizes the rebellion in which it is the sign of the army of the second son (Prince Jai). The chrysanthemum often symbolizes good luck in the place but in the film, it portrays the betrayal of the Empress towards the Emperor and it was the main place where the son’s army and the Emperor’s army fought. Another symbol is the gold coin of the emperor in which it symbolizes the payment of the emperor to the soldiers to kill his former partner, her husband, and her daughter because they were the reason that the Empress knew that she was being poisoned by the Emperor and one more was the suit of the emperor symbolizing his power because he is the only person who has this armor while his son has a silver suit symbolizing the son’s power which is less/inferior compared to the more/superior power of the father in which at the end he wore a gold suit too like the father symbolizing his power in the new rebellion.


  1. The chrysanthemum sign that the Empress made
  2. The chrysanthemum sign that the Empress made is the sign of the army that the son lead. The mission was to kill the father because the Empress and the son knew that the Emperor was poisoning her.
  3. The golden suit that the father had the silver suit the son had while practicing with the father
  4. The son with the golden suit during the war he had with the Emperor’s army.

These pictures show the different suits of the Emperor and the second son (Prince Jai) during their practice fight Prince Jai was wearing a silver suit because his father has the greater power and during the final war scene, he was wearing a gold suit meaning he has the same or more power than the Emperor.

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The gold coin represents the payment of the Emperor to assassinate the imperial doctor’s family because they told the Empress about the poison. It is a sign of betrayal because the father wanted the Imperial doctor and his family dead.

The ninjas were attacking the village of the imperial doctor and his family because the Emperor paid them to do so because the former partner and current wife of the Imperial doctor told the Empress about the poison that the Emperor was inserting inside the medicine. The doctor died while fighting the ninjas while the mother and the daughter died at the palace shortly after.

The film shows the inferiority of the female characters compared to the Emperor. The female characters include the workers and even the Empress in which she can decide on anything on her own but was eventually defeated by the Emperor when her army which was led by her son Prince Jai was defeated by the Emperor’s army. The Emperor is the one who is always right even if the Empress does not agree with his decision. She is a slave of the Emperor because she always follows the Emperor may it be drinking the medicine of the emperor or where they would meet and they always follow him. The workers are mostly composed of females and are under the control of the royal family which is Zhang Yimou’s specialty. The workers have different assignments like making the medicine of the Empress and giving the medicine to the Empress. There are a lot of workers but the ones inside the house were mainly females while the armies and the ones who cleaned the field after the war were males. The Emperor has the power to control everyone including his wife and the workers who work in the palace. One part of the film showed the former partner and the birth mother of Crown Prince Wan who had a logo on her face because the Emperor was in love with Phoenix that he took his current partner and her family to jail and she escaped but was branded by the Emperor. This shows the audience that the Emperor has a lot of power and he used it with his former partner and she suffered because of that. That is why the female characters of the film was treated as slaves because of the power that the Emperor has. It was sad seeing people being controlled by someone who has more power than them. People should have equal power because everyone was made equal. Being in the royal family does not mean that he should be the one ruling the people.

The Empress was forced by the Emperor to drink the medicine even though the liquid was only a few drops. The sons eventually persuaded the Empress on drinking the medicine.

Female workers following the empress who has more power than them and they are all under the control of the Emperor.

This is a picture of the former partner of the Emperor in which he had complete power over her. She later talked to the Emperor about their past and the Emperor asked her why did she marry the imperial doctor and not him. She said that when the Emperor was just a low-ranking member of the dynasty he asked the soldiers to put her family and her in jail because the Emperor had a crush on the current Empress Phoenix which led to her family being killed and she being branded by the Emperor.

In conclusion, the power of the Emperor should not be used to make the female characters become slaves of the Emperor but overall the movie was pretty good and the actors were pretty good too. Watching the movie can help the audience to know the power that a leader holds that he/she can use against other people. It also shows the culture of the ancient Chinese people in which it shows the different beliefs of Chinese people regarding the different colors. I would recommend this movie because it was nicely directed by the director but the clothes of the Empress and the workers are too short to be formal and it is not appropriate.

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Portrayal of Ancient Chinese Dynasties in the Film “The Curse of the Golden Flower”: Critical Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 3, 2023, from
“Portrayal of Ancient Chinese Dynasties in the Film “The Curse of the Golden Flower”: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Portrayal of Ancient Chinese Dynasties in the Film “The Curse of the Golden Flower”: Critical Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 Oct. 2023].
Portrayal of Ancient Chinese Dynasties in the Film “The Curse of the Golden Flower”: Critical Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Oct 3]. Available from:
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