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13 items from 2006


The Banquet

8 September 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

TORONTO -- What if someone threw a fabulous banquet and forgot the food? The mesmerizing but often empty martial arts epic The Banquet -- from China's most commercial director, Feng Xiaogang -- leaves you feeling that way. The cast includes top actors from the Chinese and Hong Kong film industries, headed by Ziyi Zhang. Oscar-winning designer Tim Yip weighs in with astonishing period costumes and art direction, making each sequence a strikingly beautiful painting. Renowned composer Tan Dun offers such a lush, complex score that you could close your eyes and listen joyously to this movie. Best of all, the world's best action choreographer, Yuen Wo-Ping, might have topped himself with fights that are more balletic than brutal.

But Banquet fritters away this opportunity with a cliched, long-winded, logic-busting, overacted film that at times seems like a parody of the martial arts genre. The film certainly will enjoy a high-profile ride on the festival circuit and win playdates the world over because of its embarrassment of production riches. Yet story and characters are virtually inert.

You can't fault the source material. The writers lift everything except the title from Hamlet. Motives and goals in some cases have been altered, but in general outline the film follows Shakespeare's play closely.

The backdrop is the ancient Chinese kingdom of 907, where treachery and palace revolts rule a cruel land so that dynasties seemingly last no more than a fortnight. The latest turmoil arises with the sudden death of the emperor. Suspicion falls on his ambitious brother Li (Ge You), who seizes the throne and takes his brother's young, beautiful wife, Empress Wan (Ziyi), as his wife. All he has to do now is eliminate his brother's son, Prince Wuluan (Daniel Wu), a melancholy lad who has a sexual thing for his stepmother so he has exiled himself from court in a dance and music colony in the wilderness.

When the new emperor's assassins reach the colony, the movie kicks into gear with its first and actually best fight sequence: Masked actor-dancers elude the swords of the assassins with acrobatic moves rather than weapons, and fighters magically appear from all quarters. Feng does like more blood than most Chinese directors, leaning more toward Quentin Tarantino than Zhang Yimou or Ang Lee. Still, the sequence is heavily stylized with much flying, athletic stunts, slow motion and bravura midair spins. Despite the spraying blood, the sequence is closer to a Gene Kelly dance number than a traditional fight scene.

The prince does escape his fate, however, and improbably turns up at the palace. Here he mopes around and picks fights with the empress and his intended, Qing Nu (Zhou Xun), who is willing to die for love. Dramatic action now shutters to a halt for extended, wheel-spinning scenes of scheming, counterscheming and suspect declarations of love. In other words, the martial arts epic turns into a soap opera.

The acting too grows strained except for Ziyi, who comes across as the most modern of the characters. Survival is the empress' game, and Ziyi lets you see the cunning beneath the coquette.

The dinner long promised by the film's title does finally bring blood and death but precious little action. Three deaths are by poison and another is achieved with a quick thrust of a knife. Talk about ending with a whimper rather than a bang.

As if to signal this is all a joke, a final death by thrown knife occurs with no perpetrator in sight. Perhaps a metaphysical murder? Or maybe the director himself did it.

THE BANQUET

Huayi Brothers Pictures/Media Asia Films

Credits:

Director: Feng Xiaogang

Screenwriters: Sheng Heyu, Qiu Gangjuian

Producer: Wang Zhongjun, John Chong

Executive producer: Yuen Wo-Ping, Wang Zhonglei

Director of photography: Zhang Li

Production/costume designer: Tim Yip

Music: Tan Dun

Action choreography: Yeun Wo-Ping

Editor: Liu Miaomiao

Cast:

Empress Wan: Ziyi Zhang

Emperor Li: Ge You

Prince Wuluan: Daniel Wu

Qing Nu: Zhou Xun

General Yin: Huang Xiaoming

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 131 minutes »

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Zhang Body Double Demands Film Credit

11 July 2006 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

A body double who starred in a nude scene for Memoirs Of A Geisha star Ziyi Zhang has demanded her name appear in the credits. The actress, Shao Xiaoshan, revealed in her internet blog that she was paid $2,448 to feature in Zhang's latest movie The Banquet, which will be released in China later this year. The blog, which was reprinted in the Chinese press, details how director Fang Xiaogang is refusing to answer her calls despite being "very satisfied" with her body. She said, "I just want everyone to know Zhang's back is mine." However, the film's producers are reportedly confused by the actress's grievances as the film has not even been released. Wang Zhongjun of Huayi and Taihe Movie Investment Company said, "The film has not been shown to the public. How can Shao know her name is not included in the credits." »

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Zhang ready to do battle for Weinstein films

6 June 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi and the Weinstein Co. are in negotiations for her to star in three pictures, including a remake of Akira Kurosawa's legendary The Seven Samurai, the New York-based Weinstein Co. confirmed Monday. While talks between Zhang and Weinstein Co. began well before last month's Festival de Cannes, according to Zhang's agents at WMA, the complex three-picture deal is far from closed. Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha) is interested in playing the role in Samurai of a peasant girl who hides from bandits in boy's clothes. Contrary to Internet rumors and published reports in Asia, no writer, director or co-star is yet signed. The Weinsteins acquired the remake rights to Samurai in 2002 for Miramax Films, and brought the project with them to their new company. Harvey Weinstein worked with Zhang when Miramax Films released Zhang Yimou's global hit Hero in 2004. »

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Zhang ready to do battle for Weinstein films

6 June 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi and the Weinstein Co. are in negotiations for her to star in three pictures, including a remake of Akira Kurosawa's legendary The Seven Samurai, the New York-based Weinstein Co. confirmed Monday. While talks between Zhang and Weinstein Co. began well before last month's Festival de Cannes, according to Zhang's agents at WMA, the complex three-picture deal is far from closed. Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha) is interested in playing the role in Samurai of a peasant girl who hides from bandits in boy's clothes. Contrary to Internet rumors and published reports in Asia, no writer, director or co-star is yet signed. The Weinsteins acquired the remake rights to Samurai in 2002 for Miramax Films, and brought the project with them to their new company. Harvey Weinstein worked with Zhang when Miramax Films released Zhang Yimou's global hit Hero in 2004. »

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Ziyi's Bold Behavior Wowed Cannes Jury

5 June 2006 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Young Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi stunned her elders on the jury of this year's Cannes Film Festival with her "bold" opinions, according to jury head Wong Kar-Wai. The Hong Kong film-maker headed the jury at the annual French festival, which included American Samuel L. Jackson, Italian Monica Bellucci and Brits Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth. Kar-Wai, who directed the 27-year-old beauty in 2046, says, "She's very bold. Even though she's very young, she's made quite a few movies. She's bold in expressing herself, so there isn't an issue of being timid because she's less experienced." »

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Loach and Cruz Win at Cannes

29 May 2006 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

British director Ken Loach and Spanish star Penelope Cruz were among the big winners at the climax of the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera on Sunday. The film-maker's drama The Wind That Shakes The Barley, which stars Cillian Murphy as an Irish medical student who joins the guerrilla war against British forces, picked up the Palme D'Or - the highest award of the festival. Accepting the trophy, Loach said, "We live in extraordinary times and that has made people political in a way they maybe weren't in the previous four, five, six years. The wars that we have seen, the occupations that we see throughout the world - people finally cannot turn away from that. It's very exciting to be able to deal with this in films, and not just be a complement to the popcorn." Cruz shared the Best Actress prize with her Volver castmates Carmen Maura, Yohana Cobo and Lola Duenas, while French Indigenes stars Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri and Sami Bouajila were joint winners of the Best Actor prize. In her acceptance speech, Cruz paid tribute to Volver director Pedro Almodovar, saying, "This prize really belongs to Pedro. You are the greatest, the bravest. You put so much magic into our lives. Thanks for what you do for women all over the world." Meanwhile, Mexican film-maker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu picked up the Best Director prize for Babel, a multi-cultural film starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The Grand Prix - the runners up prize - was awarded to French director Bruno Dumont's Flandres, while British film-maker Andrea Arnold accepted the Jury Prize - the 2nd runners up trophy - for her CCTV-inspired movie Red Road. The nine member jury was headed by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai and included Samuel L. Jackson, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, Monica Bellucci and Ziyi Zhang. »

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Ang Lee in Time's Top 100 List

2 May 2006 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Taiwanese director Ang Lee has made Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people who are shaping the world. The acclaimed film-maker, who recently won a Best Director Academy Award for Brokeback Mountain, was included on the list because his phenomenally successful work has crossed cultural lines. Actress Zhang Ziyi, who starred in Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon says, "He creates characters that draw in an audience no matter what language they speak. His insight into the human heart crosses all boundaries. I know he is also making a huge influence in the lives of younger filmmakers and actors." Music mogul and actor Sean 'Diddy' Combs also made Time's list. »

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Ziyi's Giant Pay Hike

28 April 2006 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi's movie fee has multiplied ten times over the past three years - thanks to roles in blockbusters Memoirs Of A Geisha and Hero. Filmmaker Hou Yong, who directed the star in Jasmin Flower three years ago for which she was paid $500,000, is amazed by the actress' sudden rise to the Hollywood A-list. Yong says, "When Zhang Ziyi made this movie her salary was $500,000. Now, her salary is $5 million. It's a tenfold jump. It's really amazing." »

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Zhang Ziyi Heads to the White House

21 April 2006 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi visited the White House in Washington DC yesterday for a spectacular ceremony to welcome Hu Jintao, President of China, to America. The Memoirs Of A Geisha star was thrilled to be included in the festivities - but earlier vowed to test President George W. Bush's movie knowledge if she had a chance to speak to him. She said, "I never thought I'd be able to go to the White House and participate in an activity like this. It's a great honor. If I have an opportunity to meet President Bush, I'll ask him how many Chinese films he has seen." »

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'Geisha' Officially Banned in China

3 February 2006 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Memoirs Of A Geisha will not be screened in China indefinitely, despite attempts by the film's distributor to overturn the ban. Chinese film authorities and critics were unimpressed by the casting of homegrown actresses Ziyi Zhang and Gong Li in Japanese roles, and the fact Japan committed atrocities in China during the period the film is set. A spokesman for distributor Sony Columbia Tristar Pictures says, "(It will not be released in China) because of the negative social response to the film reflected on various media. We were pleased with the acceptance of the film in November and were disappointed by this decision." Despite this decision, Chinese film fans hoping to see the film are buying illegal copies on the black market. »

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China's ban of 'Geisha' seen as boon to pirates

2 February 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

BEIJING -- Sales of pirated copies of Memoirs of a Geisha are expected to rise after the Chinese government's ban from theaters of the controversial film starring Ziyi Zhang as a Japanese courtesan, Sony, industry analysts -- and even a DVD hawker -- said Thursday. According to Li Chow, Sony Pictures Entertainment director for China, state-run film distributor China Film said the Rob Marshall picture was rejected because of "the negative social response to the film reflected on various media. They consider that it is not proper to release the film in the current situation." "The fact that the film will not be released will greatly help the (DVD) pirates," Chow added. »

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Memoirs of a Geisha

19 January 2006 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

While the 1997 best-selling novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" was written by an American, Arthur Golden, he absorbed enough of Japanese culture in his years of travel and study to convey the mysterious world of the geisha as one of subtlety, discretion, ritual and tradition. The movie version, directed by "Chicago"'s Rob Marshall and written by Robin Swicord, has, frankly, Americanized the story. By this I mean the filmmakers make characters crasser, ignore nuances within geisha tradition and give characters attitudes and dialogue highly unlikely for Depression-era Japan. The heroine, who in time becomes a legendary geisha, is modeled in the film more after a willful, modern American teen than a young Japanese woman.

"Memoirs" has generated plenty of heat on its way to the screen. The novel reportedly has been translated into 32 languages and the film production criticized for the casting of three leading Chinese actors -- Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li -- as Japanese. So opening boxoffice grosses will be strong. As an exotic romance set in the lost world of prewar Japan, the film should have sufficient legs to become a hit this holiday season.

The controversy extends beyond the cast, which is a case of a major (Japanese-owned) studio covering an expensive bet with international stars. Here is a film about Japan made by Americans, shot mostly in the U.S. and, of course, in English. Once you accept these compromises in the name of international filmmaking, none is a real deterrent to enjoying this lush period film.

Designer John Myhre's meticulous re-creation of a 1930s hanamachi or geisha district with its rickety wooden houses, ancients streets and alleys, formal teahouses and sea of nighttime lanterns on a Southern California ranch is an accomplished and credible set. The lavish kimonos, a sumo match, geisha dances, John Williams' lyrical East-meets-West musical score and atmospheric cinematography by Dion Beebe emphasizing deep, dark colors all are hallmarks of classic Hollywood filmmaking. These are surface delights that might distract from Marshall's tendency to focus on melodrama over intimacy and emotional excess over restraint.

"Memoirs" tells the story of a young child sold to an okiya or geisha household in Kyoto in 1929. Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo) initially resists her initiation into this new life despite her terror of the doyennes of the domicile, Mother (Kaori Momoi, whose whiny, sharp voice often grates) and Auntie (Tsai Chin). Adding to her misery, the house's breadwinner, the treacherous geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li), takes an instant dislike to the young girl.

When Chiyo attempts to run away, Mother refuses to put any more money into her geisha training. This relegates her to the status of maid for life. At her lowest point, as she sobs near the city river, a wealthy man she knows only as the Chairman (Ken Watanabe) treats her to a sweet and has kind words for her. This encounter transforms her life. She also falls in love with the Chairman.

Later, the hanamachi's legendary geisha, Mameha (Yeoh), takes the youngster under her wing, seeing in the beautiful girl with haunting eyes (now played by Zhang) a possible means to rid herself of her hateful rival Hatsumomo. Mameha makes, in essence, a bet with Mother that all of Chiyo's debts to the okiya will be paid off by her 20th birthday.

So the race is on. The young girl, whose name is changed to Sayuri when she becomes an apprentice geisha, undergoes intense training. In the world of a geisha, a glimpse of flesh under a kimono or a rumor spread by a malicious rival can make or damage a reputation forever. Mameha takes her "younger sister" to teahouses and introduces her to all her clients just as Hatsumomo and her protege, Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh), do the same. At every turn, Hatsumomo tries to undermine her rivals. All things lead to the auctioning of Sayuri's mizuage (virginity) to her wealthy gentlemen patrons.

The man who displays the most interest, despite his dislike of geishas in general, is the industrialist Nobu (Koji Yakusho). To Sayuri's dismay, Nobu's best friend and partner is the Chairman. No man will pursue a geisha favored by his friend. The man who emerges as Nobu's rival is Dr. Crab Randall Duk Kim), nicknamed for his appearance, but not before the Baron (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Mameha's patron, makes improper advances that nearly ruin Sayuri's career.

Naturally, Swicord's screenplay must eliminate characters and take shortcuts to stuff the major activity from the novel into the 144-minute movie. But these shortcuts run roughshod over subtlety. The chess game among these women is reduced to a cat fight. Hatsumomo is a much more formidable opponent than the movie gives her credit: She is clever, sharp and tenacious. The move version forces Gong to pay a spoiled drunk mad with jealousy.

Similarly, Sayuri is brought up to speed much too quickly. She performs a dance on her first night as an apprentice, something that would never happen. She makes sharp ripostes with her rival, dialogue more in tune with a '30s American film comedy than '30s Japanese culture. A dance performance at one point, choreographed by John DeLuca, feels like a modern Western interpretation imposed on Japanese tradition, more "Chicago" than Kyoto as it were.

The acting in all the major roles is astute. Zhang manages to seize the contradictory qualities of her character -- shyness and uncertainty coupled the defiance and iron will -- and mold them into a memorable female character. Yeoh brings just the right dignity and cautious calculation to the role of Sayuri's mentor. Gong puts the necessary sexuality into hateful Hatsumomo. Watanabe and Yakusho make strong impressions as wealthy men reduced to pandering to Yank occupiers after World War II.

The final third of the movie, rushing through the war and occupation, feels anti-climatic, even flat. Admittedly, the novel had a similar problem as this story is strongest when it enters the lost and secret world of women who never can pursue their own happiness.

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA

Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment present an Amblin Entertainment/Red Wagon Entertainment production

Credits:

Director: Rob Marshall

Screenwriter: Robin Swicord

Based on the novel by: Arthur Golden

Producers: Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick, Steven Spielberg

Executive producers: Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Patricia Whitcher, Bobby Cohen

Director of photography: Dion Beebe

Production designer: John Myhre

Music: John Williams

Co-producer: John DeLuca

Costumes: Colleen Atwood

Editor: Pietro Scalia. Cast: Sayuri: Ziyi Zhang

Chairman: Ken Watanabe

Mameha: Michelle Yeoh

Nobu: Koji Yakusho

Hatsumomo: Gong Li

Pumpkin: Youki Kudoh

Mother: Kaori Momoi

Auntie: Tsai Chin

Baron: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

Dr. Crab: Randall Duk Kim

MPAA rating PG-13

Running time -- 144 minutes »

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China Delays 'Geisha' Release Over Sex Scene

18 January 2006 | WENN | See recent WENN news »

Chinese censors have delayed the release of Memoirs Of A Geisha for the second time because of concerns over a sex scene. The movie was originally set to debut in Beijing on January 9, but was delayed until February 10. A Sony Pictures executive has confirmed censorship was the issue and that a few seconds of footage had to be cut. Memoirs Of A Geisha's release was highly anticipated and stars two of China's best know actors, Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang. The film is widely available on pirated DVDs in China. The movie is not currently on the China Film Group's distribution schedule and no new release date has been announced. »

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13 items from 2006


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