Well, I’m beginning to think that all I do is read books and go to films!

A beautiful film. Sumptuous is the word. The sets are rich and coloured in a modern way, but the film only has pretenses to being a historical drama. But it is in fact a Mandarin-Shakespearean tragedy.

The story centres on Emperor Ping and his attempt to keep his family intact. He has three sons, and the Machiavellian schemes are bubbling beneath the surface from the get-go.

This film has it all, incest, fratricide, busty handmaidens, the works (in fact, the busty handmaidens seem to be a direct nod to 16th century Europe, and serves well to reinforce the Shakespearean tribute feel. Just think ‘dumplings’). The story pivots on the machinations of the Emperor’s consort, who has been sleeping with the Crown Prince while the Emperor is off fighting at the frontier.

Of course, the Crown Prince is not her actual son, but the son of the Emperor’s first wife, who the Consort despises.

You get the picture. Nothing but trouble happens after the Emperor returns from the frontier, to ‘take care of business’.

There’s a few holes in the story, such as why the Emperor decided to do away with first wife (presumably so he can marry second wife, who is a princess to a powerful kingdom), and a few of the characters are killed almost as a matter of course, not because they advance the plot.

For example, there’s no explanation of who the mother of the youngest son is, and he seems to be written in just to add some kind of ‘balance’ to the family group. You end up thinking, why the hell was he here? The little weakling does nothing useful, doesn’t do any useful plotting except to get himself in grief, and doesn’t actually add to the story. He could be posed as a counterpoint to the warrior son and the lover son, but he doesn’t actually contribute anything. Maybe his whole role is to be an annoying whiner? Who knows.

Otherwise, a throughly enjoyable film. Did I mention sumptuous?

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