Thursday, November 30, 2006


Not to be confused with The King and the Clown, The Banquet is a quite different Asian take on the Bard's Hamlet which happens to also feature a fair number of masks. The style here however is an art-wuxia film in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film feels like Feng Xiaogang, one of the bigger directors in mainland China, felt the need to one-up the other two big mainland Chinese directors: Zhang Yimou who has Hero and House of Flying Daggers already under his belt with Curse of the Golden Flower on the way and Chen Kaige who made The Promise last year. All of these films are heavy on the melodrama and rich in colour palette and nearly all of them (including The Banquet) the young star global superstar Zhang Ziyi.

The Banquet throws the play into the blender with a fair number of twists and turns to keep those familiar with the play on their toes. For me, the familiar and the completely unexpected enhanced the tension of the film. First off, everything is from 'Gertrude's' (Wan, Zhang Ziyi) point of view. Second, 'Hamlet' (Wu Luan) and Wan are not son and mother, but rather the same age, and potential lovers. However the Emperor, Wu Luan's father claims her as his bride sending Wu Luan into self-imposed exile. Meanwhile the Emperor's Brother murders the monarch and the marries Empress Wan. Wu Luan comes out of exile at the news of his fathers murder from Wu Luan's current lover, one of the Empress's ladies-in-waiting. A night banquet and elaborate players show culminate the tale of revenge and unfulfilled love in some unexpected ways.

Folks may be getting fatigued with both pretty arty martial arts films and various offbeat takes on Hamlet; but what makes The Banquet stand out is the blend of dance-based martial arts and exceptionally bloodsoaked fighting scenes designed no doubt to play to the 'yard' (the pit where ruffians took in the show in old Elizabethan theatre). Combine that with a sumptuous, vaguely melancholic eroticism and perhaps Feng Xioagang has an interesting grasp of what makes Shakespeare timeless. The only thing missing is the bawdy humour and insight to what makes humans tick. Pshaw, I say!


Post a Comment

<< Home