Zhang Ziyi was superb as the cunning & manipulative Empress. Even while she's being conniving & cruel, you see glimpses of the young, sweet girl she once was. Zhang is a seriously fantastic actress. Daniel Wu was amazing, too; he's not playing the smooth Prince Charming persona; his character is wrought with despair & desperate love, plus he's great eye candy hoo hoo! Xun Chou was (then) a newcomer but certainly portrays her character's innocence, passion & deep love for the Prince. You Ge is brilliant in his role as the Emperor, I seriously loathed his character so much; it just shows how good he was in his part.
Empress Wan is widowed when her husband was murdered under peculiar circumstances. Her brother-in-law takes over the throne & she becomes his Empress. She plots for revenge but then you'd have to wonder; is it because she truly loved her dead husband or she has plans for herself? Enter Prince Wu Luan, returning from seclusion after his uncle sent men to kill him. Unable to take his father's death well, he begins to investigate the mystery surrounding his father's death. Other characters begin to fall into this complex web of revenge; the troubled Minister Yin, his headstrong son General Yin & his sweet, innocent daughter Qing, who is hopelessly in love with Prince Wu Luan. The end is tragic & leaves questions for the audience, the various facets to Empress Wan adds to the lustre of the film; you can't tell if you love or hate her.
Soaring orchestral music with Oriental hints perfectly adds dimensions to the movie experience. Expect rich & textured music as the film winds around the dark, the erotic, the passionate & the beautiful. The songs sung by certain characters are sad & simple; I really think the soundtrack is a wonderful match to the film.
It's a pretty long show; if you're not into gradual build-ups, then this probably isn't the film for you. The various layers & textures build unto each other, creating a finely woven masterpiece. The interactions between the characters can be tedious at times; likewise, they can be intense & gripping. The ending is predictable (especially if you know Shakespeare), but a good film nevertheless.