The story is taken from an ancient Chinese legend - of the beautiful concubine of a great emperor, sacrificed for the sins of her family. No doubt the Chinese setting looks rather ludicrous to Chinese viewers (it was originally a co-production with HK based company, but they seem to have had no artistic input), but thats hardly new - even Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger was hated by most mandarin speakers I know. And its probably no worse that the Last Samurai or Memoirs of a Geisha appears to the Japanese.
It was Mizuguchi's first colour film - while some commentators have praised the beauty of the camera-work, I must admit I was left a big cold by it - not a patch on (for example) Ozu's first colour experiments. It may be that the blame is the digital colour transfer or just my poor quality screen, but I think its more than that - I get the strong impression the movie was shot on a very tight budget - some of the sets look very fake compared to most Mizoguchi' films I've seen. I don't think the film makers were totally aware of how colour can show up fakery in a way they could get away with using black and white. In fact, the whole movie has a slightly throw away feel, as if Mizoguchi didn't fully have his heart in it. There are lots of opportunities for the sort of big sweeping scene he specialised in, but which aren't taken up here - I would guess that he simply didn't have the time and budget for it.
But I don't mean to criticise this too much - while the script is occasionally clunky, it is usually very moving and beautifully acted. The characters are vivid and while its a little bit much to believe that a great Emperor could be quite such a sappy soul, Mori and Kyo do a reasonable job in making their characters believable - or as believable as possible when translating such an ancient story. Kyo as always is wonderfully watchable. Mori is slightly less successful - he doesn't quite show the steel that much have existed under the cultured exterior of a man who ran an empire.
So while this film is certainly not a masterpiece by Mizoguchi, or one of the best movies of the period, its certainly superior to most contemporary costume dramas and well worth having to while away a rainy Sunday afternoon.