The Banquet

The Banquet


Reviewed by: Caro Ness

This film owes more than a passing nod to Shakespeare, based largely as it is on Hamlet. In this version though, the action is moved from Denmark to the Tang dynasty in 10th century China. Here the Claudius character, Emperor Li, kills his brother, the ruling emperor and steals his wife, the Gertrude character, who was originally the Prince’s girlfriend. The Hamlet character is key to the action but is demoted in importance here to the Gertrude character, Empress Wan, who takes centre stage and becomes - in the style of Lady Macbeth - the real villain of the piece.

The sets are truly magnificent - although the actors occasionally feel secondary to them. The cinematography and choreography are breathtakingly beautiful and the acting uniformly excellent, particularly from the mesmerising Ziyi Zhang as the mercurial, wilful, power hungry Empress Wan - but the viewer is left strangely unmoved, perhaps because whilst Zhang and the other actors are good, they somehow lack the necessary gravitas and maturity to dominate the film and they do not ultimately convince us entirely of their humanity and their right to be loved.

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This is a stirring tale, beautifully filmed, lavishly dressed (the costumes cost on average in excess of $5000) and with magnificent sets. Indeed, no expense was spared, the whole costing approximately $12 million. We are intrigued by the extraordinary machinations of the Empress Wan and Emperor Li (You Ge), by the vengeful Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu) and his unrequited love, Qing Nu (Xun Zhou). We follow the somewhat torture and bloody route to the denouement, and marvel at the fabulous depiction of the Tang Dynasty, all of which make this film more than just a Shakespearean adaptation but ultimately we are not really moved - despite its luscious camera work and stirring, brilliant fight sequences, the result is cold, and that is the film’s weakness.

The film is beautiful to look at and the Shakespearean tale translates well to China. The production values are extremely high. Tan Dun deserves an honourable mention for writing a score that is truly attuned to its subject and inexorably builds atmosphere. Worth watching but falls short of the brilliant movie it could have been.

Reviewed on: 04 Jun 2008
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The action of Shakespeare's Hamlet is transported to 10th century China.
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Director: Xiaogang Feng

Writer: Gangian Qiu, Hevu Sheng, based on Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Starring: Ziyi Zhang, You Ge, Daniel Wu, Xun Zhou, Jingwu Ma, Xiaming Huang, Zhonghe Zhou, Zeng Qiusheng, Xu Xiyan

Year: 2006

Runtime: 131 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: China


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