A loose adaptation of Hamlet, "The Night Banquet" is set in an empire in chaos. The Emperor, the Empress, the Crown Prince, the Minister and the General all have their own enemies they would like to finish off at a night banquet.
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In 907 AD, the Tang Dynasty is in tatters; infighting snarls the imperial family. Crown Prince Wu Luan loves Little Wan, but his father takes her as his Empress. Wu Luan goes into exile, studying dance and music. His uncle murders his father, taking throne and Empress; uncle sends assassins to kill Wu Luan. The Crown Prince eludes death and comes to court. The Emperor arranges for Little Wan's coronation and dispatches Wu Luan to a distant land; he then calls for a midnight banquet on the 100th day of his rule. Poison, treachery, Wu Luan's return, and the love of the innocent Qing for Wu Luan set up the final entanglements. No Fortinbras or Horatio lay the dead to rest. Written by
"The Banquet" is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" which, I believe, is Shakespeare's most powerful literary creation, and one which has been adapted (as I count) 5 times in the silver screen (my personal fave is the version with Mel Gibson; I have yet to watch the one with Ethan Hawke). This adaptation is so loose that oftentimes it feels like it has its own originality and only drew inspiration from "Hamlet".
One of the original aspects of the film is that of the character played by Ziyi Zhang, which is a product of a revision of the original script. A revision which added quite a depth to the storyline. Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice, Farewell My Concubine) was originally supposed to play Zhang Ziyi's part. Maggie Cheung (2046, Hero) was also considered for the role. Due to scheduling conflicts. When Ziyi Zhang took over the part, the script was rewritten to make the character younger. Her character is a former love interest of the Prince Wu Luan (the main character) but was later wed to the Prince's own father and eventually, to become the Empress to his uncle. Such a character has given a large amount of dramatic tension to the storyline and further complicates it, making the story more unpredictable even though it is an adaptation.
It is such a wicked delight to see Ziyi Zhang play such a dark snake of a character in this movie, a character who claims a love which is actually of self rather than something pure. Since her breakthrough in "Crouching Tiger..." she has proved time and again that the potency of her talent doesn't easily wither, and in her youth she has already made great performances, more than enough to satisfy a cinema-acting retiree. Likewise, impressive performances from Daniel Wu as the Prince Wu Luan, (the alluring & yummy) Xun Zhou as the Opheliac Qing Nu, Jingwu Ma as the wise Minister, and You Ge who also deserves much praise for playing the Emperor Li, a character who defies being generalized as black & white; a character which is richly layered with many levels. THE BANQUET is mainly drama, You do not watch this film for the Martial Arts, even though Yuen Woo Ping has a hand in the making of this film as both producer and action choreographer (I would consider Yuen Woo Ping as the living god of Martial Arts movies, having directed timeless classics like "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow" & "Drunken Master" until now, & was given international spotlight when he worked as Fight choreographer of "The Matrix" movies), but you watch this movie for its beautiful storyline. Although there are moments that induce awe in some of the fight sequences, these are expected to be minimal compared to the dialogue-driving motion of the film. It may even be observed that the martial arts here is a mere icing on the cake.
Along with that icing is the amazing visuals that it presents. From flying stunts, to set designs to costumes. You can feast your eyes upon the visuals, which wakes up viewers from a possible boredom. It employs a semi-surreal style of setting.
It seems that ever since it broke into worldwide popularity, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" has opened the floodgates for Chinese dramatic epics which are done in "closed form" of movies, movies which such a forced unnatural ambiance that generally use wire-works to do fantastic martial arts feats and exaggerated vibrancy and style on sets which depict surreal environments (although this style was long used in Hong Kong, but mostly only for action epics). But this type of fantasy-like genre was getting old and it needed to be complemented with really good story lines. Such was achieved by Yimou Zhang's "Hero" (which starred Jet Li & Donnie Yen). This same surreal "closed form" style is employed by THE BANQUET.
THE BANQUET is powerful, dramatically rich, and such a masterpiece of a work, as dark and beautiful as the Shakespearean tragedy from which it is based on.
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