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
I'm a big fan of Chinese movies, Ziyi Zhang and Shakespeare, so I was definitely looking forward to this movie. The story is inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet and does an excellent job of translating the classic to an historic setting at the end of the Tang dynasty. I especially enjoyed the reinterpretation of Hamlet's mother as Prince Wu Luan's former lover (there was always something uncomfortably incestuous in Shakespeare's original). The acting is superb with kudos to both Ziyi Zhang and You Ge for creating a pair of very complex characters as Empress and Emperor. Some of the dialog is poetic in spite of not being Shakespearean. The sets were sumptuous. And Qing Nu's song at the end was beautiful!
So where did it go wrong? Except for Qing's song, the rest of the music was annoyingly obtrusive. Most of the action scenes were stylized and shot in slow motion. And many times the annoying music was playing during the slow motion action sequences, which effectively doubled the annoyance. Only the Prince's "audition" was a meaningful, well constructed action sequence. Finally, it could have been edited better with the movie reduced by about 15 minutes. There were several scenes that just didn't make sense. For example, there is a beautiful shot of Empress Wan entering the water naked, but it has no relation to what came before or after (ok, maybe that scene doesn't need context, but it just seemed out of place).
Overall, a decent movie with flashes of brilliance but having one too many flaws to rank any higher.
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