Empress Wu (1963) - full transcript

Empress Wu tells the story of China's only female emperor. While this is a very interesting story in history, the film does only a marginal job of bringing it to the viewer. The director, Li Han-Hsiang, uses several short anecdotes from throughout the empress' life. While this could have been an effective storytelling method, they are all far too similar to grab the viewer's interest.Almost every anecdote involves some threat to the throne, which the main characters then must act against. The main problem with this approach is that none of the plotters agianst the throne have fully developed characters, so it is hard to understand why they want to take over. The film would have been better if it it had just focused on one such plot, or had focused on one plot and other aspects of the empress' life.

Ican't believe you said that!

How unfilial of you!


If you go to the Empress now

you're selling out the prince

and those loyal ministers

You're still young. Think again!

The prince has been kind to us

how can you do this to him?

You're intelligent

how can you sacrifice others
for your gain?

Mother, what are you saying?

How can you sacrifice others for own gain?

I'm not that despicable!

Wan Er!




Don't move!

Your Highness!

It's late

what's the matter?

By virtue of the Empress' order

Please pardon our intrusion!

What are you doing?

What should we do with them?

Zhao Dao Sheng should be executed

Shangguan Wan Er?

She's an accessory to the crime!

Banish her

What's your decision, Your Majesty?

I'll let you decide!

Very well!

Ming Chong Yan was an evil fellow

He flaunted his power and bullied people

He deserved to die!

Zhao Dao Sheng's crime will be pardoned

Banish him to Feng Tian Monastery

Thank you, Your Majesty!

Shangguan Wan Er is just as guilty

Considering her age, have her branded

Tattoo a plum flower on her forehead

as a reminder

She'll remain by my side

Thank you, Your Majesty!

You may go!


Pei Yan


Put the crown prince under house arrest

Wait for the court's decision tomorrow


Your Majesty...

You may all go!

Court adjourned!


Why did you kill Ming Chong Yan?

Why? I have lots of reasons

I also have a lot to say

How dare you talk to
your mother like this?

Your Majesty!

Go on!

You're not my mother!

Then who is?

Your sister!

Madam He Lan, whom you killed!

Therefore I must avenge her!

No wonder you have concealed weapons

They're for my benefit!

Now that I'm in your hands

You can kill me

Iike you poisoned my brother!


Your Majesty!

Don't be angry!

Let me talk to him!

Who told you I poisoned your brother?

Everybody knows that

don't play dumb!

You're a cold-blooded murderer!

You've gone mad!


You unfilial son, I'll kill you!

Don't lose your temper, sire!

Lie down and rest!

No, while I still can...

I must tell him!

Your brother overdosed on aphrodisiac!

Madam He Lan killed herself
because I raped her!

Why did you blame your mother?

Let me tell you

The Empress is none other

than your birth mother!

When you were born

she was still at the nunnery!

She gave birth in Madam He Lan's house

that's why you came under her care

Lie down, sire!

You want to kill your own mother!

What kind of an animal are you?

The nerve of you to boast filial piety!

Your Majesty!

Let me talk to him!

Escort His Majesty to the chamber!


His Majesty sets out!

Farewell, father!

His Majesty sets out!

Now you know your mistake?

I made no mistake!

You don't believe your father?

He didn't mean what he said!

If he didn't say that

he'll be dead!

You're perverse! Who instigated you?

The gods of Heaven

and my conscience!

Please spare my father

just kill me!

My own flesh and blood

What can I say?

Summon Pei Yan!


Greetings, Your Majesty!

Draft an edict at once

Banish the prince to Sichuan as a commoner




Kneel for the lmperial Edict

By virtue of the Emperor

Since Li Xian cannot restrain
his militarism

He is banished to Sichuan

Yet he's unable to correct his mistakes

conspired with traitors

spread rumors to create chaos

Such behavior is intolerable

I hereby order General Qiu

to eliminate the instigators

and execute him

"ln December, 683 A. D.

Zhong Zong succeeded Gao Zong as Emperor

He was exempted in February
and named Prince Lu Ling

Empress Wu promulgated the 1 2 Suggestions"

Look at Zhang San!

He was an informer

Commoners riding in a palanquin

to the court!

That's unheard of!

These vagrants...

These vagrants

were bought off by Zhou Xing
and Lai Jun Chen!

If they wish to frame someone

there'll be informers!

Millions of innocent people have died!

Hen crow at daybreak like a cock
is a bad sign

The Turks and Tibetians
tyrannized the border

Nothing was done to counter their invasion

She's suspicious and ruthless by nature

She drove her opponents to suicide

and killed her own flesh and blood

The dynasty built by Emperor Tai Zong

will come to an end soon!

Shut up!

Creating chaos with your fallacies?

I didn't!

Take him away!


What are you doing?

I'm innocent...

There are 3 petitions today

The first one...

What is it?

This does not warrant your attention!

What is it?

A request to find a chicken


Someone from Lizhou

His chicken was stolen

He wants...this is a joke!

By law, the district magistrate should
execute him!

You think it's appropriate?

If Your Majesty attends to
such a petty matter

there'll be chaos!

But I must deal with it!


Draft an edict to the magistrate of Lizhou

Arrest the thief in 3 days!

Pardon my ignorance, are you serious?

You should be beheaded for asking!


My words are decisive

Will I make a joke?

Reviewing the law

No Emperor in history has

mobilized resources for
something so trivial!


Theft reflects instability

Instability stems from poverty

There'll be no thieves
if people are contended!

You're right!

What about the next one?

This is absurd!
Heavy penalty must be imposed!

What is it?

There's a Da Zheng Temple in the capital

The nuns misbehaved!

What's the matter?

They defied monastic rules
and seduced young men!

We must punish them!

Is that your law?

Are you defending them?

I'm just intrigued!

About what?

These nuns live in seclusion

how can they seduce men?

Don't you think it's rather strange?


Even women should not seduce men

Iet alone nuns!

Is Your Majesty revising
"The Chaste Women"?


You think to make someone...

A woman with feelings

and thoughts like a man

To be kept in a nunnery

is considered chaste?

My intention for revising the book

is the exact opposite!

I have identified

many heroines throughout history

to set an example for women;

Urge them to introspect,

Iet them enjoy human rights

This is against nature!

I'm afraid there'll be trouble!

What do you mean?

Your indiscretion has set a bad example

hence the people are unruly!

Decent women focus on sewing

And not matters that do not concern them!


Honesty is always unpleasant to the ear!

In your opinion

I'm only qualified to sew?

If Your Majesty knows what is proper

you should abdicate

Prince Lu Ling is the true heir!

I see

I would like to take your advice

but there's one problem!

You can surely eliminate it!

I'm afraid you'll disagree!

I'll die with no remorse!

You're most forthright! Guards!


Remove his hat and token!


Thank you!

Your Majesty!

You can still change your mind!

Think carefully!

Will you take back what you said?


You're true to the law!

You've upset the yin and yang,

violated the legislative intent
of our ancestors!

I'll show you their intention!

Decapitate him!



Anything to say in your defense?


Do you believe in the law?

I will not yield!

Take him away!



You are pardoned
and summoned to the rear chamber!

You may go!


Greetings, Your Majesty!

Come in!


Greetings, Your Majesty!

Are you aware of your crime?


So you're not afraid to die?

A loyal official is not afraid to die!

Loyal official?

You consider my head

not worthy of the blade?

Well worth it!

What are you looking at?

Your eyes and figure

and also your heart!

Your eyes sparkle but they're not tender

You're tall but not stalwart

Your lips bend downwards,
it shows you have will power

You're old fashioned and your heart...

I know that now

You have courage
and you're eager to do well!

I like that in a man!

What do you mean?

You don't understand?


There's nothing in your law like this


I beg you to kill me!

No! Right now I don't intend to do that

You may all go!


You too, Wan Er!


Your Majesty!

If you pardon me

please allow me to retire!

That'll be such a waste!

Look at me!

Things don't go by the law around here

But don't worry, word will not leak out!

Your Majesty!

One fire on another

Someone in red on the throne

Crows across the river,
rabbits roll down the hill

Everything in vain, no need to go to war

One fire on another

Someone in red on the throne

Dao Sheng

Madam Shangguan

When did you arrive?

A few days ago

Have a seat

I accompanied Master Shan Dao

to perform rituals for the late Emperor

I'm here to visit you!

You're so thoughtful!

Wan Er is in Feng Tian county
with the Empress

to bury the late Emperor!

I know

I heard the crown prince was murdered
in Sichuan!

They say the Empress was behind it!

The Empress?

I don't think so

Towards me and Wan Er

she was most lenient!

She can't possibly do this!

It's hard to say!

Have some tea!

I have to go!

I just came to see you

Minister Pei is here. Leave from the back!


Master Luo

Madam Shangguan!

Please have a seat!


It's safer to meet here

No one ever comes here

How are things in Yangzhou?

All set

Lord Ying sent me

to fix the date for the uprising!

The Empress is in Feng Tian county

This is the perfect time!


I have the proclamation
against the Empress!

I brought 2 copies

Well written!

Thank you!

We found someone in Yangzhou

who resembles the crown prince!

We'll use him to rally the people!

That's excellent!

Lord Ying wants you to send
a few confidants

to accompany me to...thank you

... Iiaise

When are you leaving?

There is not a moment to lose

I'll leave tomorrow

I'll dispatch my men tonight

We'll meet at Tianjun Bridge at dawn


No need to go to war

This rhyme has implications

Kids in the city are singing it

They started it last night in court

It's the will of Heaven!


It's time for a new dynasty!

According to the rhyme...

You're the next Emperor!



One fire on another

2 "fires" is your name "Yan"

Someone in red on the throne

That's your last name "Pei"


Crow represents the sun,
rabbit is the moon

Everything in vain

That's the word "Zhao", the Empress' name!

No need to go to war

That's the Empress' last name, Wu


Looks like Wu

will yield to Pei

Honestly, that has been my intention!

I appointed General Cheng to the capital

precisely for this reason!

It appears you'll get your wish!

Let me salute the future Emperor!


I'll leave the proclamations with you!

You'll be rewarded for keeping this secret

Thank you!

It's settled then!

Let's go!

Please stay!

You're still here?

Sorry, I overheard everything!


I must alert the Empress

You are traitors!

I must report you

Dao Sheng

Let go!

I'm coming with you


I must report them

I finally understand

I thought Pei Yan was loyal to Tang

but he's just an usurper!

I misjudged you!

Feng Tian county is too far from here

You can't possibly go!

Let me go!

Place Pei Yan under house arrest

Order General Li to execute Cheng Wu Ting

Then lead 300,000 troops down south

on a pre-emptive strike

Take Xu Jing Ye by surprise!

Your Majesty!



Thank you!

Pei Yan

You colluded with Xu Jing Ye

in an uprising and caused great sufferings

Do you admit to being guilty?

I'm loyal to the Tang Dynasty

I'm on a punitive expedition

to restore the Tang. How can I be guilty?

Is he a loyal official?

You think you're loyal to Tang

but everyone knows

You bribed General Qiu

And murdered the crown prince
with a fake edict!

You call that 'loyal'?

The Li descendants are inept
and deserved to die!

I have the mandate from Heaven
to be the Emperor!

Mandate from Heaven?

Just listen to the children's rhyme

that's spread across the palace!

Luo Bin Wang


About that rhyme

tell us all about it!

Xu Jing Ye plotted against Your Majesty

He wanted Pei Yan to help him

So I spread the rhyme

to deceive him!

Did you hear that?

The winner is king, the loser a bandit

It serves me right to be duped by him!

We have witnesses and evidence

What can you say for yourself?

Do with me as you please!

Very well!

You're most forthright! Guards!


Decapitate him and Xue Zhong Zhang!


What about you?

I deserve to die

You should be executed for conspiracy!

But you exposed the scheme with your rhyme

And helped wipe out the traitors!

Did you write the proclamation?

Death is too good for me!

You write well

but you have no moral integrity

I banish you to Ling Yin Temple

for introspection

Take him away!

I'll never forget your benevolence!

The riot is suppressed
and the traitors executed

We should celebrate

Long live Your Majesty!

Long live Your Majesty!

"September, 690 A. D.
Tang Dynasty became Zhou

Empress Wu called herself Sacred Emperor"

What is it?


Someone set fire to the Ming Hall!

Zhang Chang Zong and Zhang Yi Zhi

barged in with rebel troops!

Who set the fire?

I don't know!

Go put it out!

Don't just stand there!

Oh, right!

Your Majesty!

There's nothing to be afraid of!

I'll suppress them, it'll be over!


I expected them to come after me

Just not this soon!

Let's take shelter!

No! I'll wait for them!

Let them see who I am!

And let them know

who they are!

The situation is bad!

Zhang Chang Zong and
Zhang Yi Zhi have rebelled

Please hurry and make a decision!

On what?

I knew this day would come

According to your laws?

Yes and no!

Since Xu Jing Ye's rebellion

you've been discredited

You think I haven't killed enough?

Precisely because of the killing

You trusted Zhang Chang Zong
and Zhang Yi Zhi

Zhou Xing and Lai Jun Chen

but they oppressed the people!

Your reputation has been tarnished!

Wan Er, is my head still intact?


If it is

you have nothing to fear!

I can still dispose them!

I say yes, they dare not say no!

I want them dead

they dare not stay alive!

You know how to control people

but it's different now!

How so?

You're advanced in years,
you should abdicate


This is a pressing matter!

The Zhangs are searching the palace!

You think they dare to kill me?

You're wrong! They wouldn't dare!

I'll vanquish them!

But should something happen

Your Majesty should have an heir!

Who should that be?

Prince Lu Ling

You think I'll die?

Zhang Chang Zong

Zhang Yi Zhi to see Your Majesty!

Has the fire been put out?

We caught the arsonist!

Who is it?

One of my men!

Who is it?

Xue Huai Yi

He should be executed!

Please issue the order!

Or else even though
we recognize Your Majesty

Our swords do not!

How dare you!

You should be executed for insulting me!

How impudent of you!

Okay then, let me ask you

What should be done to
the one who rebelled?

If insulting an official should be
punishable by death

what about the one who
plotted against the Emperor?

We wouldn't dare!


You charged in here with your men

Didn't you come for my head?

We wouldn't dare!

Then what are your swords for?

To protect Your Majesty!

For my protection?

Will you execute the rebels?


Zhang Chang Zong and Zhang Yi Zhi

are accusing you!

Will you kill yourselves?

We wouldn't dare!


Have mercy, Your Majesty!

Among the
most calculating senior ministers

Pei Yan comes to mind

Among the most popular generals

Xu Jing Ye is the one

Among the most invincible generals

One must count Cheng Wu Ting

What happened to them?

Why are you bringing them up?

Because they had sensible heads

that were worth decapitating!

But sensible heads like that

are hard to come by these days!

Your Majesty!

I shall reward you
for putting out the fire

Thank you, Your Majesty!

You may go!

Thank you!

Even minions like them want to revolt!

They have committed high treason

why didn't you execute them?

They're not worth it!

You should get some rest!

I might not wake up again!

Your Majesty!

I won't die!

I'll vanquish them!

Summon Wu Cheng Si



He's in Fangzhou

to bring Prince Lu Ling back to court!

Your Majesty!

You may all go!

Please let me rest here alone for a while


Usurper Wu Zhao is not of
amicable disposition

She comes from humble origin

and attended to Emperor Tai Zong

Shamed the palace with her promiscuity

Meddled with state affairs

Unyielding and overbearing

Bewitched the Emperor with slander

Ruthless and ferocious

Resorted to sorcery
to slaughter the innocent

including her own siblings

Incurring the wrath of both man and God!


I forbid you to laugh!