Synopsis by Josh Ralske
The young Emperor Zhengde (Zhao Lei) is a rather callow youth, easily distracted and not particularly interested in matters of state, much to the chagrin of his mother, the empress (Tang Ruoqing). One day, he hears peach-blossom girls singing of the wonders of Kiang-nan in the south and decides to leave the Forbidden City disguised as a commoner and travels to the province. He arrives in the midst of a Spring Festival and is immediately smitten with a young woman participant, whom he later learns is Li Feng (Linda Lin Dai). He seeks her out and learns she waits tables at a local teahouse. He pursues her, despite the objections of her brother-in-law, Ta Niu (Jin Quan, later to become a legendary director for the film's producers, the Shaw Brothers, under the name King Hu). She puts up a show of resisting him, but she's attracted to the mysterious stranger. Circumstance throws them together one fateful night. The next morning, she's shocked to discover the imperial army at her door, sent by the empress to retrieve Zhengde. After their night of passion, he promises to send for Li Feng when he gets back to Peking. But the empress won't allow Zhengde to marry a commoner. He's despondent at first, but soon enough he's distracted by other women and forgets all about it. For her part, Li Feng discovers she's pregnant. When Zhengde fails to send for her, she sinks into despair. Released in 1959, Li Han-Hsiang's The Kingdom and the Beauty was an early effort by the Shaw Brothers at bringing huang mei opera-style films to the screen. The film was shown by the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the 2004 New York Film Festival as part of a sidebar tribute to the Shaw Brothers.