I saw the Curse of the Golden Flower earlier this evening with Gracchi and Vino.
It had the thorough visual splendour of all the recent Zhang Yimou films. Not since Barry Lyndon has there been film-making so thoroughly visually amazing. Within the palace the screen is full of colour. Battles are clashes between colours. For all the film's other flaws Yimou's sense for the visual will make it a part of cinematic history.
The first problem is the pacing. The plot doesn't advance at a steady pace but lulls with details being released sporadically. At times you feel it losing your interest in a way that never happens with Hero or House of Flying Daggers. This film fails the most important test; it doesn't tell its story well.
The second problem is the battles. This film really illustrates that an ability to film action does not mean that a director can create a cinematic war. This film falls into the classic trap of having the armies spend far too long looking like a mob instead of an army. King Arthur's Saxons behaved the same way. The Orcs in the Lord of the Rings were masters of strategy by comparison. When armies behave like mobs there isn't the sense of drama, of decisiveness, that can make cinematic battles thrilling.
These flaws are critical to the film because they make the plot development ponderous and the climax dissapointing. Some superb moments, a ninja assault from the cliffs particularly stands out, cannot rescue things. This was dissapointing although possibly still worth watching just to see such an amazing spectacle.