Monday, April 19, 2010

Movie Monday: Curse of the Golden Flower

I’m not generally a fan of foreign films, but many Chinese and Japanese historical dramas have made it to my DVD collection. The costumes are simply incredible. Recently, I watched Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). It was truly like watching moving art: not only for the costumes, but also the set design and cinematography. It is gorgeous! The story is set during Later Shu of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, in the year 928 C.E. and tells of the turmoil that grows underneath calm the façade presented to the world by the Imperial Family, and of a rebellion…

As with many historical movies, there were many inconsistencies (which Directors like to call Creative Licences, but really, when you have documentation, you don’t need to take creative licences!). First, the metal nail extensions worn by the Empress Phoenix (Li Gong) became popular 600 years after the time the story is set in. Also, the plate armour worn by the men was never popular in China; they preferred scale armour, coat of plates or lamellar armour. The architecture is reminiscent of the Ming Dynasty’s Forbidden City. Finally, I have doubts about the women’s cleavage showing so much, but maybe that is just me.

Now let’s look at a few of these incredible costumes, shall we?

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

Junjie Qin as Prince Yu and Li Gong as the Empress Phoenix, Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

Li Gong as the Empress Phoenix, Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

Yun-Fat Chow as Emperor Ping, Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

Jay Chou as Prince Jai, Li Gong as the Empress Phoenix and Yun-Fat Chow as Emperor Ping, Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

And just to compare, here in a painting from roughly the same time period; it is from the Tang Dynasty, but two centuries before the time when the movie is set.

Beauties Wearing Flowers, by Zhou Fang, 8th century

I guess it’s just like with Western Medieval movies: they always feel the need to make the costumes more pleasant to the modern eye. But still, these costumes are amazing.

Costumes for this movie were designed by Chung Man Yee, which got him an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Costume Design.


  1. Yes, I found it difficult to believe that a Confucian Chinese culture would support the Elizabethan approach to showing off a woman's cleavage in quite the manner shown in the costumes. The painting you showed has a low neck line, but not near as low (& pushed up!) as what was shown in the movie. In the show The Tudors I would find that bra/bodice style appropriate, but not for the more conservative Confucian culture portrayed in Curse of the Golden Flower.

  2. China during the Tang Dynasty was actually known for being remarkably liberal when it came to higher class women, and clothing during that time was actually rather revealing. I don't know if these costumes are historically accurate, but showing skin was quite common in Chinese women of the time.

    1. Thank you for the information. I don't pretend to be a Chinese costume expert, so I always appreciate input from someone more knowledgeable than me.