Ann Hui goes for the big guns here, but ends up making a rather cheesy and overly sentimental drama that fails to impress. It's as if she wanted to relive the heydays of Yimou Zhang's work, but lacked Zhang's talent to keep the sentiment under control. The result is an overly long film that drags things out unnecessarily.
The Golden Era ends up being China's answer to Hollywood kitsch. Slow and overstated camera work, overbearing drama that lacks subtlety, a score that is a tearjerker's dream and an epic story that spans half a lifetime. And a 3-hour running time, so even when you aren't impressed by the film itself, you'll be hard-pressed to forget about it afterwards.
It's not all bad though. The actors do a nice job and some stand-alone scenes do work well. The problem is that they're not highlights of climaxes within the film, put just part of the constant onslaught of drama. I'm not a big Hui fan to begin with, but at least her usual mix of character drama and genre cinema offers something unique, this film sadly doesn't.