absolute opulence. the film aims for aesthetic perfection, but neglects the characters. they are reluctant to be drawn out of their tropes, and remain exquisitely lifeless. this story of betrayal, filial piety, and power has been told time and time again, and zhang yimou has simply coated the same bareboned narrative with thin sheen and glimmer.
This meticulously planned epic film from Zhang Yimou ranks near the top of his rich and varied filmography. Exquisite in detail on every level this represents a master class in costume, set design and art direction while providing an incredible script and characterizations as well. The duplicity in plotting is supreme as are the performances from a perfectly cast ensemble. Essential cinema.
The operatic rigor, the aesthetic formality is quite astounding. With such outrageous grandiosity, every subtle gesture, look, twitch, hint becomes hugely meaningful. As usual Zhang Yimou produces scenes of great choreographed beauty. Watching it, I thought of the book "The Autumn of the Patriarch". The emptiness and loneliness of power is taken to the borders of insanity and egomania. Which quite suits power.
Yimou returns to the court drama of his early career, complete with Gong Li eminent as ever, but brings the over the top dazzling visuals from his more recent works to create the ultimate Yimou fusion. The web of intrigue is expertly weaved and despite the somewhat large cast, every character gets their chance to shine.
Beneath marvelous visuals and masterful direction of action and fight scenes lies a story full of intrigues within imperial family that transcends beyond the gates of palace. Betrayal and torment are everyone's playing cards and nobody comes out as a villain nor a hero. Still, the tragedy which is inevitable manages to hit emotional core even without a character with whom the certain feelings could be manifested.
Plays out like a beautiful soap opera about a family with secrets that crash to the surface. In the final act everything is turned up to 11, which is entertaining for the most part if not ridiculously over the top, also a great performance from Gong Li. Worth a watch but disposable afterwards.
I like how the starting point's status quo returns in the end (square in a circle) and becomes much more justificated. After all the Emperor and the Empress are both antiheroes, so a fight between them (deduction of War and Peace) will cause only meaningless sufferings.