Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Curse of the Golden Flower
This Zhang Yimou’s colossal movie is starred by Gong Li as the Empress and Chow Yun Fat as the Emperor. The setting is the tenth century in Tang Dynasty (923-936AD), a time of corruption, dictatorship, and warfare.
The Empress is the daughter of the previous Emperor, Liang. She married the Chief Commander of her (late) Emperor father due to the trick the Commander did. He successfully persuaded Emperor Liang to marry him to the Emperor’s daughter. To get the crown, he threw away his first wife (or his secret lover?), by imprisoning her, but then telling lies to everybody that she died. However, he already got one son from her.
Apparently the patriarchal culture in China at that time made the Commander the following Emperor with all power and might. He even had bigger power than the Empress, the legal heiress from the previous Emperor. He also made his first son from the first wife the Crown Prince!
Feeling unloved and treated unfairly (since the Emperor kept the picture of the first wife in a special holy place, and appointed the first son that didn’t have blood relationship with her as the Crown Prince), the Empress took revenge by flirting the first son, Wan. She expected to be able to persuade him to give the crown to Prince Jai, her own son?
Knowing the illicit liaison between his second wife and his son from the first wife, and feeling worried that he would no longer become the mightiest person in the country, the Emperor wanted to kill the Empress slowly, by putting a poisonous substance into the medicine the Empress drank every two hours everyday. He secretly asked the Imperial doctor to prepare the special medicine.
Feeling suspicious that there was a new substance added into the concoction of her medicine, the Empress asked the wife of the Imperial doctor to investigate it. After finding it, the doctor’s wife told her that it was black fungus from Persia. If it was consumed 2 grams daily, it could make the consumer lose his/her insanity in some months. It saddened the Empress very deeply. However, as a woman, she didn’t have power as much as her husband. She still had to obey her husband’s order—to drink the medicine. For a woman, obeying a husband’s order was the same as obeying the natural law. A husband—moreover an Emperor—was considered as mighty as the Omnipotent, the One who created the nature. Whether the man was a real good husband or a murderous devil, it didn’t matter much. A husband still had to be respected and obeyed. In this situation, women were portrayed weak and helpless.
One scene for the above example was when the Empress didn’t drink all the medicine one time, she left one or two gulps of the concoction. She already felt suspicious with it but she didn’t find out about the fact yet. The doctor reported it to the Emperor. In the occasion to welcome Prince Jai from the boundaries, where all were seated together in the terrace, the Emperor forced the Empress to drink the rest. The Empress wanted to rebel, but everybody forced her to obey the Emperor, except Prince Jai. This made her give in. Because trying to refuse to drink it, she was considered to violate the natural law, by the Emperor.
Why did Prince Jay not force her to drink it like all the rest? His experience to get involved in battles, to know the outside world for three years made him more open and broad-minded, that even a woman had right to say no and she was also supposed to be listened to. Unfortunately because he was the only one, he couldn’t really help his mother.
Meanwhile, feeling worried that she would die soon, because she didn’t have any courage to refuse the poisonous medicine, the Empress told Prince Jai about it. She realized that her effort to persuade Crown Prince Wan (by flirting him) failed because she found out that Wan even fell in love with the doctor’s daughter and had secret relationship with her, the Empress planned a coup d’etat, with the help of Jai. She didn’t want Wan to be the next Emperor, she wanted her own son to get that royal crown.
This made Jai in dilemma because he had to choose between his father or mother. He didn’t want to fight his own father because that violated the natural law. However, he didn’t have a heart either to see his father killing his mother slowly with the poisonous medicine.
The first appearance of the doctor’s wife at the thirty-fifth minute of the first disk easily caught the audience’s attention because despite the fact that she secretly helped investigate to find out what kind of new substance added into the Empress’ medicine, she refused when the Empress was about to pay her. She said she had her own grudge to the evil Emperor. This made the Empress suspicious about the relationship she had with her husband. Her suspicion grew bigger when she heard that the woman who came to the palace secretly was caught by Prince Wan and taken to the Emperor. The Emperor even released her. She must have had a very special relationship with the Emperor long time ago.
When the Emperor sent the doctor and the family away from the palace—with a very tricky reason: by appointing him to be a governor at Suzhou—the Empress saw it as a sign that the Emperor would kill the whole family of the doctor. The Empress sent secret help because she hoped that the past secret relationship between the Emperor and the doctor’s wife would be useful for her to force the Emperor to step down from the throne. She did not want the key of the Emperor’s past life to be murdered.
It means the Empress had two plans: bloody coup d’etat headed by Jai, and the shameful past background’s disclosure of the Emperor.
Did the Empress’ plan work well and did her favorite son Jai get the throne?
Watch the movie by yourself, pals. :)
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