Curse of the Golden Flower is a 2006 Chinese epic drama film directed by Zhang Yimou.
The plot is based on Cao Yu's 1934 play Thunderstorm (雷雨 pinyin: Lei Yu), but is set in the Imperial court in ancient China. On the eve of the Chong Yang Festival, golden chrysanthemum flowers fill the Imperial Palace. The Emperor (Chow Yun-fat) returns from his various military campaigns with his second son and general, Prince Jai (Jay Chou). The Emperor has returned to celebrate the holiday with his family. For many years, the Empress and Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), her stepson, have had an illicit affair. Prince Wan secretly dreams of escaping the palace with his secret lover Jiang Chan (Li Man), the Imperial Doctor's daughter. Meanwhile, Prince Jai, the faithful son, grows curious and then worried over the Empress's health and her abnormal obsession with golden chrysanthemums.
For ten days, the Emperor had ordered the Imperial Doctor (Jiang Yiru) and his daughter Jiang Chan to secretly add tiny amounts of a poisonous Persian black fungus into the medicine that the Empress takes several times a day. The Empress summons Prince Jai, revealing to him her plot of rebellion. She asks for his participation but Jai hesitates, saying that it would be difficult for him to take up arms against his own father. After seeing his mother take a poisoned dose, he relents and agrees to participate.
A woman-in-black is captured by Prince Wan and taken to the Emperor, and it is revealed that she was Jiang Shi (Chen Jin), Jiang Yiru's wife, Jiang Chan's mother, and also the Emperor's previous lover. The Emperor promotes the doctor, sending him from the Palace to serve as governor of a remote area. Prince Wan runs after them to see Chan. From the information that Chan provides him with, he senses that the Empress is plotting something, so he hurries back to the palace and confronts her. The Empress, already losing her mind, bluntly claims that she just wants Wan to die and continue with her plan. Wan, in a panic, stabs himself and is put under care.
The doctor's family are attacked by mysterious assassins-in-black who kill Jiang Yiru. Chan and her mother are forced back to the palace. When they return the Empress reveals that Jiang Shi was actually the mother of Prince Wan, meaning his secret lover, Chan, is in fact his half-sister. Realizing this, a shocked and crazed Chan flees the palace screaming in horror with her mother chasing behind. Both are killed by the assassins-in-black.
Prince Yu abruptly kills Prince Wan and attempts to oblige the Emperor to abdicate the throne to him. He confesses that he also learned of the plot and his brother's affair with the Empress and acted in advance to gain the throne. The Emperor's assassins-in-black eliminate Prince Yu's tiny rebel force easily, and the Emperor beats Yu to death.
Thousands of golden armored warriors led by Prince Jai and wearing the embroidered flowers of the Empress charge the palace. As they charge forward, the Emperor's personal assassins attempt to stop them. Although Prince Jai's men take various casualties, they manage to beat the assassins and move forward. As the golden-armored army marches into the imperial square, they are boxed in by a clever trap. It is clear that the Emperor had full knowledge of the plot and had quietly moved a large army into the palace. From their superior position they are able to cut down the rebels with a massive hail of arrows. The Prince continues to fight but eventually surrenders. The survivors of the golden army are gathered, bound and executed on the Emperor's orders. After the battle, the courtyard is swiftly cleaned up as if the evening's event had never transpired and the Festival begins at midnight as scheduled.
The Emperor offers to spare Jai on the condition that he henceforth personally administer the medicine to the Empress. Prince Jai apologizes to his mother for his failure and kills himself, his blood spilling on the Empress's medicine. The Empress lets out a furious shriek and slaps the plate out of the servant's hands. The film then ends with an image of the poisonous medicine landing on an engraved wooden chrysanthemum and eating away at it.
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