The plot is Shakespearean, involving dynastic succession, palace intrigues, secret poisons, mistaken identities, half-brothers pitted against each other and a domineering yet sympathetic father, etc. The dialog, however, at least in translation, is as far from Shakespeare as you can get. No one speaks more than two or three sentences at a time, and they’re usually along the lines of “Honored mother, I bow before you” or “I demand that you embrace the principle of filial piety.” Pretty stiff stuff.
But who cares about the dialogue! It’s an action picture like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, right? Well, no, it isn’t. There are a couple of fight scenes, but most of the visual pleasure here has to do with watching Li Gong get dressed, or watching eleven billion servants making lunch in a kitchen the size of the Astrodome. (It seems like a rule in this movie that there are either fewer than five or more than 100 people in the frame at any one time.)
Pretty picture. Ridiculous on the small screen at home. Should have gone out when it came out. Or not really.