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
It has long bothered me that Feng Xiaogang's movies don't get U.S. releases...and so I have had to make a habit of getting them sent to me from overseas or other equally inconvenient means. Having discovered his movies while living in China several years ago, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of Ye Yan and watching its progress through "pre-production" notes on IMDb. I was a little intrepid--one of the elements I love about Feng Xiaogang's movies is their ability to create inordinate beauty in contemporary settings that many would not see the beauty in...and I knew this was to be a film of another era. (In truth, I feared a little that Feng was going the way of Zhang YiMou--from the extraordinary into the traditional, beautiful, but traditional.) But I also love Feng's cultural, historical, and linguistic layering--and what better basis for that can their be but Hamlet? (Noting for fairness sake that I am an English Professor, and love Hamlet above all other Elizabethan dramas.) However, this film is, while traditional in setting, still extraordinary. The use of masks and movement play with Shakespearean notions of the play within the play/all the world's a stage. And, for me at least, this is the most impressive layer of the film. The story is well done; though one should not watch it as a "version" of Hamlet, but rather as "inspired by" Hamlet. Both Ye Yan and Hamlet address political, cultural and social issues through the story, but their issues are not identical. At this point, I would say this is my second favorite Feng Xiaogang film--only behind Tian Xia Wu Zei--but oh how I wish they would all be released in America. I read in the trivia of this web page that Ye Yan will be nominated for the Oscars and I hope this is true......mostly on the off chance that if it wins--despite the American public not seeing it--that it will lead to some of Feng Xiaogang's movies getting an American release.
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