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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During China's Tang dynasty the emperor has taken the princess of a neighboring province as wife. She has borne him two sons and raised his eldest. Now his control over his dominion is complete, including the royal family itself.
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
Movies out of HK and China are increasingly rivaling or surpassing the best out of Hollywood in acting, cinematography, costuming and artistic vision. 'The Banquet' is a shining example.
This is a loosely based interpretation of Hamlet adapted for the Tang dynasty period. In my opinion there is too much energy spent on this site debating whether it is a good adaptation of Hamlet, comparing it to other Hamlet films, etc. It is not a straight "remake" of Hamlet - it obviously takes inspiration from the play, and uses many of its elements, and that's it. So just sit back, watch it and judge it on its own merits.
This is primarily a drama but it's sprinkled with great martial arts choreography a la Yuen Wo Ping. Many fight scenes follow the wu xia (fantasy kung fu) genre just suspend your disbelief and enjoy the beautiful spectacle of it.
A riveting moment comes when a one of the Emperor's mandarins (scholars who rule over the provinces) introduces Wan as "Dowager Empress", language that means Wan is the mother of an Emperor (Prince Wu Luan) and is a slap in the face to Li. Wan and Generals alike must decide where their allegiances lie.
The acting is very good and I enjoyed Zhang Ziyi playing the lecherous Empress, You Ge playing a convincingly imperial Emperor and Xun Zhou as the naïve Qing in love with our 'Hamlet'.
One of The Banquet's strong points is it is absolutely stunning visually, right from the first scene in a verdant and swaying bamboo forest that makes you wonder if such a beautiful place really exists. The costumes throughout are incredibly rich and detailed.
It lags a little in the last half hour (maybe I was just tired) but to its credit does not run much longer than 2 hours.
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