This is an epic from director Li Han Hsang that speaks of court politics in Imperial China at the turn of the 20th Century. In particular, the film centers around the title role of the Empress Dowager, who during this time, exercised her power over four different Emperors (her husband, her son, and two nephews), and essentially brought about the end of the Ch'ing Dynasty rule over China.
The movie's quite accurate in context, examining and explaining many of the poor political choices that were made during this time. It also makes comparisons between the overt influence of the Imperial Eunuchs over the ruling power and that of Rasputin over the Russian royal family during the early 1900s.
The cast is really quite wide and varied, though many of the leading actors hail from an action movie background, rather than drama. Nevertheless, the acting throughout the film is superb for the most part and really gets the viewer into the drama of the period. Sets and props were worthy of the real Imperial court, truly reminiscent of Chinese artifact from that period, so I was very impressed with the lengths to which Li went to make this film authentic.
Granted, there are some things depicted in the movie which I doubt anyone alive really knows now, so yes, the movie does have its speculative bits.... but such is the case with many historical films. Directors do have artistic license, after all.
Despite the film's age, I feel it still translates well to a contemporary audience, given the fact that it's a history movie. Being a movie filmed by Hong Kong companies, it may not have the cinematography of American films during this time. Nevertheless, it does stand heads and shoulders above many of the Chinese films during this period and, in my opinion, a good watch for those interested in Chinese history.
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