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  • 15
  • Action, Drama
  • 2006
  • 131 mins

The Banquet

The Banquet

Synopsis

Loosely inspired by Shakespeare's 'Hamlet', this epic Chinese martial arts drama stars Ziyi Zhang as a scheming Empress involved in a series of passionate and deadly Palace intrigues

About

It's hard not to see The Banquet as a companion piece to Yimou Zhang's Chinese epic Curse Of The Golden Flower - both released in their home country in 2006, they tackle Shakespearean themes of ambition and deceit and blend a slow-burning tale of courtly intrigue with bursts of beautifully choreographed violence.

The Banquet is distinguished by a much more deliberate approach to its Shakespearean themes, using the structure of 'Hamlet' as the starting point for its plot, but also introducing elements from the much bleaker 'Macbeth'. Curse Of The Golden Flower eventually overdosed on spectacle and The Banquet comes with its own special set of problems which render it a visually breathtaking but curiously unengaging experience.

The story is set in ancient China, in the era between 907- 960 AD, known as the Period Of The Five Dynasties And Ten Kingdoms. Here, the old Emperor has recently died and his younger brother Li (Ge) has usurped the throne by marrying the Empress (Zhang). Having secretly murdered his brother, Li's position seems secure - but there's also Prince Wu Luann (Wu), the heir to the throne who's turned his back on his position for a life studying the arts.

Not wanting to risk any loose ends, Li despatches a group of assassins but Wu Luann survives the attack and returns to the palace, determined to uncover the truth about his father's death and punish those responsible. However, while he encounters threats from his uncle, and attracts the romantic attentions of serving girl Qing Nu (Xun), the real danger comes from the Empress - his old childhood sweetheart, and a woman who's determined to get what she wants no matter what the cost.

Featuring exquisite production design on an incredible scale, and a selection of fight scenes courtesy of legendary choreographer Yuen Po Wing (The Matrix), The Banquet is a pure wuxia film, with characters displaying the same gravity-defying acrobatics and martial arts skills as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. However, anyone expecting a full-on action epic should be warned, as the combat sequences arrive infrequently, and are sometimes so off-the-wall that they topple into being both surreal and unintentionally funny.

Part of this problem comes from the film's ultra-serious, gloomy tone which is reflected in the dark hues and shadows of the production design (a far cry from Golden Flower's dazzling universe of colour). There's barely a moment's relief from the sense of foreboding, and with each performance pitched at an intense, almost theatrical level, there's very little that actually draws the audience into the tale. Combine this with an over-complicated plot that will leave even those familiar with the story of 'Hamlet' trying to figure out exactly who's plotting against who, and you've got a film that's visually ravishing, but fundamentally flawed.

Featuring exquisite production design on an incredible scale, and a selection of fight scenes courtesy of legendary choreographer Yuen Po Wing (The Matrix), The Banquet is a pure wuxia film, with characters displaying the same gravity-defying acrobatics and martial arts skills as in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. However, anyone expecting a full-on action epic should be warned, as the combat sequences arrive infrequently, and are sometimes so off-the-wall that they topple into being both surreal and unintentionally funny.

Part of this problem comes from the film's ultra-serious, gloomy tone which is reflected in the dark hues and shadows of the production design (a far cry from Golden Flower's dazzling universe of colour). There's barely a moment's relief from the sense of foreboding, and with each performance pitched at an intense, almost theatrical level, there's very little that actually draws the audience into the tale. Combine this with an over-complicated plot that will leave even those familiar with the story of 'Hamlet' trying to figure out exactly who's plotting against who, and you've got a film that's visually ravishing, but fundamentally flawed.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Jingwu Ma, Ziyi Zhang, Daniel Wu, Xun Zhou, Zeng Qiusheng, Zhonghe Zhou, You Ge, Xiaoming Huang
  • Director: Feng Xiaogang
  • Writer: Gangjian Qiu, Heyu Sheng, William Shakespeare
  • Producer: Zhongjun Wang, John Chong
  • Photographer: Manling Zhang
  • Composer: Tan Dun

In a nutshell

A production that's both amazing to look at and hard to enjoy, The Banquet contains plenty of visual pleasures, but ties its gloomy story in too many knots to be truly entertaining.

by Saxon Bullock

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