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:

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

Step Two:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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. ♦