If looks were all it took to thrill, this opulent, near-operatic historical pageant would rank with Zhang Yimou's last two epics, Hero and House of Flying Daggers. But Golden Flower is cursed with being too much of a good thing, with Gong Li's cleavage. Cast as a tenth-century Chinese empress, this mesmerizer of an actress bites into her role like a juicy apple. The great Chow Yun Fat is her match as the emperor who deals with the problems in their marriage — such as her affair with her stepson, the crown prince (Liu Ye) — by trying to poison her. And that's just for ters. No wonder the empress is driven mad. You'll go nuts too if you try to unravel the plot strands or interpret the film through the personal relationship between Gong Li and her director that ended in 1995. The pleasures are mostly visual, from the texture of a gold fabric to the bloody battles that didn't need to be so amped with computer effects.The final effect is stunning, but also sadly impersonal.
From The Archives Issue 280: December 14, 1978