How to Look Like an Untouchable Empress

Steel yourself against the world with this regal makeup tutorial.

Gong Li as the Empress in Curse of the Golden Flower.

Gong Li as the Empress in Curse of the Golden Flower.

I love films that use very controlled color schemes, and I’m a big fan of the actress Gong Li, so naturally I adore the work of the director Zhang Yimou, who frequently uses both in his movies. I was inspired to make a makeup tutorial based on this particular film, Curse of the Golden Flower (2006), because of how unbelievably opulent its every detail is.

Even though the story is set centuries ago in an imaginary Chinese dynasty, the excessive usage of rich reds and golds and how Li’s character, the Empress, wears gorgeous, intricate makeup all day, every day, really speaks to me. Here’s a DIY that’ll help you show your own inner empress to the world!

What you’ll need:

  • A red eyeliner pencil, like this one from Hot Topic. You can also use red lip liner—just check the packaging for warnings to make sure it’s safe to use near your eyes.
  • A gold eyeliner pencil, like this one from L’Oreal.
  • Red eye shadow. I recommend the one in this customizable Ruby Kisses palette.
  • Gold eye shadow. I used this one from L’Oreal.
  • Orange eye shadow (optional), which you can also find in the above Ruby Kisses palette.
  • A shimmery pearl pink or soft gold eye shadow or highlighter, like this one from e.l.f.
  • Black eyeliner. I used a gel liner, like this one from NYX Cosmetics, but a freshly sharpened eye pencil or liquid eyeliner will work equally well.
  • Mascara. I used this one from Maybelline.
  • Optional: Eyebrow powder or pencil, like this kit from e.l.f.
  • Red lip liner. I used this Nicka K one in Red.
  • Red lipstick. I used this one from MAC Cosmetics in Ruby Woo. Feel free to substitute another color for this look—it would also look great with a black or nude shade!
  • Blush. I used the darker one in this Kleancolor palette in Dreamy Night.
  • An eye shadow brush. Mine is very similar to this e.l.f. one.
  • An angled eyeliner brush (optional). Mine is from a set like this one from Forever 21.
  • A blush brush, which you can also find in the above set.

How to do it:

Step One:


Get your face all ready! Do your facial makeup as you normally would (or wouldn’t). Feel free to leave your eyebrows alone, but if you want to commit to the straight-brow part of this look, use an eyebrow razor to shave off the tails, as I did, or cover the ends of your brows with concealer.

Step Two:

DSC_0218 copy

Draw a winged line from the outer corners of your eyes up towards your temples with your red liner.

Step Two:

gong li

With that same eyeliner, roughly fill in the outer half of your eyelid or upper-eye area, which is where the same color of eye shadow is going to go. This will make the color bolder. Do the same on the inner half with your gold liner. Don’t worry about blending just yet!

Step Three:


Dip your brush in red shadow and make long sweeping motions from the middle of your eye up toward your temple with it, covering the red liner you applied on your upper-eye area.

Step Four:


Add the gold eye shadow to the inner corners of your upper-eye area.

Step Five:


Blend the edges between the colors out with your eye shadow brush.

OPTIONAL STEP: You can add a little orange eye shadow between the two colors to make the gradient look more seamless. If you don’t have one, it’s OK! Just blend the two shadows as smoothly as you can.

Step Six:


Apply a light color of your choosing, like pearl pink or a softer gold, under your brow and in the very corner of your eye as a highlight. Blend it with the rest of your eye shadow using a little bit of your original gold (and/or orange) shadow.

General note: As I added more gold, I also added more red, since the shadow I used wasn’t super-opaque on my darker skin. If at any point while you’re blending, you notice any one color is becoming overpowered, just go back in and add some more until you’re happy!

Step Seven:

gong li1

With your black eyeliner, trace a medium-thick outline along your upper lash line. Don’t make it too thick—otherwise, you’ll cover up your eye shadow!

Step Eight:


Add a little bit of black eyeliner to your lower waterline. (I initially forgot to do this step, which is why my makeup looks a little different here, but here’s where it should go in this process!)

Step Nine:

Line along your lower lash line with your red liner.

Step Ten:


Apply mascara to your upper and lower lashes. Here’s how everything should be looking thus far:


Step Eleven:

gong li2

With your black liner or brow pencil, gently draw straight lines along the bottoms of your eyebrows that angle up slightly at the ends. (You don’t want them too angled or you’ll look angry). If you’re using a pencil, keep it nice and sharp.

Step Twelve:

Use the same product to fill in your brows, being careful to end them in a point. Think of the finished product as a very slender triangle.

Step Thirteen:

gong li3

Now for the easiest part of the look: the lips! Prime them by filling them in with a red lip liner, then go over that with red lipstick.

Step Fourteen:


Now you’re going to do a makeup trick exactly like one the Empress uses in the movie: Gently press your finger in a bit of gold shadow.


Apply it to the middle of your lips, then blend it subtly outward as you contemplate your plans to usurp your husband’s throne…or whatever it is you’re looking to conquer!

Step Fifteen:

gong li4

For extra drama and color, apply blush to your cheekbones. Follow the direction of your eye makeup and sweep it upward towards your temples.


And that’s your final look! Now go prepare your armies and take the world by storm, your Highness. ♦


  • Arabelle April 8th, 2014 7:05 PM

    omg girlmonster your way. i love you.

  • GottaBeClaireG April 8th, 2014 7:21 PM


  • Hannah Craig April 8th, 2014 7:35 PM

    This is lovely and at the same time, totally kick-ass. It’s an image of perfection.

  • MayaLove April 8th, 2014 7:42 PM

    if i wasn’t painfully sallow and ashy i could rock this look…

  • soviet_kitsch April 8th, 2014 7:56 PM

    you look like a literal princess, and that’s just the “before” pics

  • thebrownette April 8th, 2014 8:10 PM


  • sungiant April 8th, 2014 8:16 PM

    wow you are so gorgeous and i love the eyebrow thing it makes you look calm yet very powerful

  • floralprints April 8th, 2014 8:40 PM

    Omg so gorgeous!

  • FatedToPretend April 8th, 2014 8:47 PM

    I LOVE this makeup, but on a related note, you are ABSOLUTELY beautiful

  • emilycarolina April 8th, 2014 8:54 PM

    you are GORGEOUS and i love the makeup! you should start a makeup youtube channel!

  • yesacehannah April 8th, 2014 9:23 PM


  • painting_the_roses_pink April 8th, 2014 9:27 PM

    ohhmygod this look is so flawless! You are so flawless! Thank you so much for this tutorial!!!

  • indramaria April 8th, 2014 9:38 PM

    I’m so in love… you must be the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all day.

  • emseely April 8th, 2014 10:04 PM

    damn. so freaking beautiful, a+

  • droppingdaisies April 8th, 2014 10:10 PM

    this gets me so excited like everything about this is so perfect like the eye makeup and how u did the gold with the lipstick anD THEN UR EYEBROWS

  • Mariana April 8th, 2014 11:50 PM

    goodbye, i am dead. this is beautiful.

  • rockwrenroll April 9th, 2014 12:08 AM

    You are beautiful and maybe the only person who could pull off those eyebrows.
    But I’ll tell you what:
    You inspired me to try!

  • VagabondZombie April 9th, 2014 1:32 AM

    You are so breathtakingly beautiful, gurl! This looks suits you so much. Like an empress and a goddess. I definitely would try this look. Maybe try it our with different colours as well!

  • Simone H. April 9th, 2014 4:01 AM

    Oh my gods, you’re so beautiful !! Aaagh !! (had the same reaction when the article was still unpublished, just seeing the cover picture made me go wow)
    You are freakin’ PERFECT, Indigo.
    Just had to say it.
    The makeup is sooo badass, definitely gonna try it during these hollidays ! (with other colors though, no red eyeshadow in my make up suitcase, and it’d maybe make me look sick anyway)

  • sashafayesquash April 9th, 2014 5:59 AM

    Indigo, you are so pretty it *HURTS*

  • kateits April 9th, 2014 6:16 AM


  • Anaheed April 9th, 2014 8:03 AM

    I mean, are you CGI???

  • Berries April 9th, 2014 8:36 AM

    You look stunning~!

  • Ciara Gavin April 9th, 2014 9:03 AM

    Beautiful tutorial and a beautiful face to go with it, please excuse me while I go buy every gold eyeliner in existence. Eep, thank you Indigo!

    xx, C

  • radiofireworks April 9th, 2014 9:27 AM

    Oh wow, this is amazing. Definitely going to subtly adapt this to wear to work so I can feel like a warrior when I’m really just answering emails…

  • elizabethann April 9th, 2014 9:59 AM

    Your face is impossible (in the best way possible) and the makeup is reminiscent of a *monarch* butterfly, which is totally appropriate when you’re trying to look like an Empress

  • lexilikes April 9th, 2014 10:11 AM

    Stunning omg <3

  • aikaendi April 9th, 2014 11:20 AM

    Wow, that looks so great!

  • April 9th, 2014 11:26 AM

    Just beautiful! I have just about the same skin tone and I never thought about using red eye shadow, but now I am totally inspired!

  • beefyx April 9th, 2014 2:44 PM

    holy moly you are gorgeous. I freaking love that gold eyeshadow on top of the lipstick!

  • onlykhenzo April 9th, 2014 3:02 PM

    I can’t focus on how amazing and easy-to-apply your tutorials are if you’re going to keep having such a beautiful face. Like, what’s it like being a walking painting?

  • pocketmouse April 9th, 2014 3:06 PM

    i really hope you do more tutorials!! soo lovely ◕‿◕✿

  • Xochi April 9th, 2014 4:47 PM

    Each one your make up tutorials are flawless, and them brows girl!!!!

  • annie April 9th, 2014 8:51 PM

    you are so unbelievably beautiful! work it girl, you are stunning

  • Lianna1130 April 9th, 2014 9:57 PM

    This model is gorgeous! Great skin&bone structure

  • fabulousmuscles April 9th, 2014 11:11 PM

    So kickass! Love the shadow over the lipstick trick.

  • llamalina April 10th, 2014 12:02 AM

    are you for real omg

    can you do my makeup for prom please, i’m crying, your tutorials are so perfect and we are almost the same skin color too, and it’s so rare to find tutorials where i can see how something would look on someone with darker skin. i love this sooooo much.

  • ughgina April 10th, 2014 7:49 AM

    definitely bookmarking this for future reference
    the gold eyeshadow on the lipstick is just perfectttt

  • Mary the freak April 10th, 2014 9:41 AM

    you are so incredibly beautiful! searching for words but I can’t find any.
    Your face seems absolutely perfect to me.

    Also, awesome tutorial! :)

  • Imogen-Rose April 10th, 2014 9:12 PM

    oh my god you are honestly like the most beautiful person I ever seen!! and this makeup tutorial is really awesome, I always want to be an untouchable empress :)

  • cornly_ April 10th, 2014 10:18 PM

    This is probably the only makeup I’m allowing myself to wear.

    And youre so darn pretty

  • louisatheredhead April 11th, 2014 1:12 AM

    You are so unbelievably gorgeous!

  • Tyknos93 April 11th, 2014 6:33 AM

    G L O R Y

  • hemngway April 11th, 2014 9:17 AM

    You are so beautiful! Have to give that tutorial a go (:

  • Kamila April 11th, 2014 5:05 PM

    You are insanely beautiful O.O

  • izi1998 April 11th, 2014 5:46 PM

    Woah, you’ve got looks that could stop traffic girl for real. So gorgeous!<3

  • SkillzBeat April 14th, 2014 4:51 PM

    Beautiful! Gold and red is so regal, makes your eyes look so lovely! Maybe one day I’ll try this

  • Janis April 20th, 2014 4:59 AM


  • whatnono April 27th, 2014 12:36 AM

    you’re seriously otherwordly beautiful. love it.

  • peppermint-ivy May 10th, 2014 12:40 AM

    I love this tutorial! Rad eye makeup too.

  • FatedToPretend May 12th, 2014 7:52 PM

    This is SO pretty-ful (so are you, but that’s not the point!)

    A great tutorial; suuuper easy to follow :) I love red eye-makeup and wish more people showed off different styles for it

  • izzilily June 7th, 2014 11:23 PM

    You’re so pretty my god

  • sobrina June 26th, 2014 3:47 PM

    I know literally everyone says this on literally all of your tutorials but you are seriously the most beautiful person ever, my goodness