A World Without Thieves director Feng Xiaogang shifts his focus from modern-day con artists to tenth century intrigue with this tale of internal turmoil in the age of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms starring Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, and Ge You.
Her empire on the verge of a massive revolution as storms begin to brew both within the royal court as well as in the outlying kingdoms, the entrancing Empress Wan (Zhang) gazes upon her stepson, Prince Wu Luan (Wu), with the eyes of a forbidden lover rather than a caring mother.
When the emperor dies an unexpected death and his younger brother Li (Ge) ascends to the throne, Empress Wan marries the newly appointed sovereign as a means of both protecting her beloved Wu Luan and cementing her position within the royal court.
When assassins dispatched by Emperor Li fail in their attempt to silence Wu Luan and his majesty subsequently announces a lavish banquet, Empress Wan and Wu Luan realize that the time has finally come for them to take action against the murderous despot. The film demonstrates tremendous influence by Shakespearean plays, specifically Hamlet and Macbeth.