Overall, I give it a big thumbs up.
Ye yan (2006)
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Overall, I give it a big thumbs up.
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.
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.
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.
Feng avoided these fatal mistakes by keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground. While he starts with a clear message that he is second to none in the fancy stuff department, with two spectacular sequences (which I'll come back to), he did not get carried away as the other two directors, and comes back firmly to the story and the characters.
The story is what I would call quasi-history and is a very clever move. While there is definitive reference to the rather chaotic historical period after the Tang Dynasty (the "decaying Tang" or "five dynasty, ten nations" period as known in Chinese history), the movie is intentionally vague on where exactly the story happened. For all intent and purposes, it's a fictitious nation. There's the cleverness, of getting the better of both worlds having the air of authenticity and yet avoiding completely any possible criticism of distorting historical facts.
VERY loosely, there is a Hamlet plot, sort of. We do have an indecisive prince (Daniel Wu) finding himself in the predicament of his uncle (Ge You) murdering his father and taking over both the crown and the queen (Zhang Ziyi). But here, the queen is not the biological mother, but a former adolescent sweetheart (4 years younger) that his father took away. Perhaps to ease his son's pain, the king (now murdered) made a match for him with lovely and devoted maid-of-honour Qing (Zhou Xun).
This would be the place to bring up an interesting point. Purportedly, the role of the queen was initially offered to Gong Li, who declined because of other engagements. Had it been Gong, she would have to play someone 4 years younger than Wu. This leads me to speculate that maybe we had originally a closer Hamlet plot in which Gong would be Wu's real mother. It was then changed because Zhang playing Wu's mother would be just as unconvincing as Gong playing his young ex-lover. If that is really what happened, the plot suffers in that the love story between the prince and Qing has become less "pure" and sympathy-worthy.
There is no question that the queen is the main character, the opening credit of Zhang's solo billing betrays as much. She is relentlessly scheming, overmatching even the king (the reigning one, that is, her ex-brother-in-law) hitting him at a spot that is every man's Achilles' heel, by telling him that he can give her something that he brother wasn't able to (and she may well be very honest about it, judging from what we see in the erotic scenes). But, there are more facets to the queen than just the ruthless survivor. There's the ambitious power-monger and there's the vulnerable young lover, just to name two. Zhang has come a long way from the wooden, angry, rebellious young damsel which has been her single-expression, over-simplified persona. In "Banquet", she begins to show subtleties and variations that we have never seen in her before. Although I must confess that in Zhang's scene throughout the movie, I couldn't help that if-only-we-have-Gong subconscious, in all fairness to Zhang, she has come off rather well with this difficult challenge.
Daniel Wu suffers by comparison, but manages to deliver an art-loving, introvert prince that is reasonably believable. And I must give Ge due credit for resisting the easy temptation to overacting the usurping brother (or uncle, or brother-in-law, depending on who's talking), making the role more of a real flesh-and-blood human being than a stereotyped bad guy. The darling of the movie is obviously Qing - pure, innocent (but not naïve), devoted, defiant portrayed to perfection by Zhou. There are two other important characters, Qing's father the minister (Ma Jingwu) and brother the general (Huang Xiaoming).
The movie opens with a most exquisite set, a three-dimensional arena-cum-stage where the self-exiled prince finds melancholic pleasure in perfecting his art in a Greek-type tragedy, complete with masks and all. Soon, this tranquil paradise becomes an infernal of bloody slaughters by the royal guards sent by his uncle to eliminate him. These are the two scenes I mentioned earlier, in which director Feng shows what he is capable of in the "artistic" department. But, as I said, he didn't indulge.
After a stunning opening, the movie gets back down to earth, telling a story in a simple, but effective way. The middle section could be considered slightly long, but is never dragging. The finale is sure-handed, punchy or poignant as the situation demands, and I particularly like the imaginative aerial shot framing an exquisite pattern of three dead bodies in white, black and brown and a living one in fiery red.
The music is also exquisite, beginning with Tan Dun's powerful orchestration. Most memorable is the haunting song of unfulfilled love that starts the movie and is echoed at the end, sung in a scene by Zhou in a way that deepens the pain tenfold. The original sound track has been advertised in town just as heavily as the movie. I expect to get one soon and will edit this comment if there's more to say after listening to it.
If you like Crouching Tiger, this is the movie to see. Forget about everything in between.
Anyways, I saw it how it is meant to be seen (in the theater) and here is my opinion.
You will like this movie if you like drama and are a fan of stories in the style of the Greek Tragedy. It is a slow paced film, clocking in at over 2 hours, but for those who like listening to purposeful dialogue and those interested in dynastic Chinese culture it is a very quick 2 hours.
If you are looking for a martial arts film, there is fighting in this film, but that is not what the film is about. To me the fighting is a necessity, and done beautifully (not realistically, if you care about realistic fighting go watch some UFC bouts or other films).
I think this film is as much appropriate for females as males if not more so (even though I am male) do to the involving love stories presented.
Overall, for what it is, I give it a 10 out of 10. Perhaps it isn't perfect, but I still enjoyed it and to me it was an excellent drama/tragedy story.
Much criticism has also emerged in China after several smaller showings in the cities of Guangzhou, Xi'an, Hangzhou and Shenyang. Interestingly enough, in recent years, Chinese audiences and critics have followed the unofficial "routine" of trashing any big-budget blockbusters by Chinese directors aiming to rival their Hollywood fellows. Even Hero, directed by Zhang Yimou whose Curse of the Yellow Flowers is due out this year, received a great amount of negative publicity in China while being highly praised in the rest of the world and topping the US' movie chart. Chen Kaige's The Promise has also provoked much controversy, even public anger from audiences, especially netizens.
The Banquet, reportedly costing about 150 million yuan to make, is expected to be longtime comedy director Feng Xiaogang's directing transformation. The movie tells a tragedy happening in a kingdom during the Period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms in ancient China.
The storyline was inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, which has been admitted by the director from very beginning, but has several adaptations: Empress Wan (Zhang Ziyi), in love with Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu) since their very young age, she is crowned as the Empress and becomes her beloved's step-mother by marrying his father, who was later murdered by Emperor Li (Ge You), his power-hungry brother who crowned Wan as the Empress once again. Meanwhile, the prince Wu Luan is locked in a power-struggle with Emperor Li, and loved by Qing Nu (Zhou Xun), an innocent minister's daughter. In the end, all die for love, struggle, revenge and desire.
Director Feng punched back when asked by press about foreign criticism who said the movie lacked Chinese characteristics. "I think it was their biased conspiracy. They want to look down upon us from their hegemony culture angle. When you have done a good job as they do, they are not pleased. They will say it lacks so-called 'Chinese characteristics' and 'hope' you go back to do those old colorful stuff. They also feel that The Banquet is almost the same as the House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As a matter of fact, I feel the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are almost the same, too. But they are definitely different. This only indicates that we have known very little about each other." I exclusively invited, was treated to the morning viewing. With its depressive but magnificent music, short but eye-catching action scenes and darkly beautiful set and costume designs, The Banquet is far from a flop. The plots are well organized, though a little sluggish. The cast works well, especially Zhang Ziyi, at her best when demonstrating her character's physical and mental crises.
For Chinese audiences, the biggest problem may be the movie's Chinese dialogue, much of it drawn from literary language. The amusement inherent to hearing characters speak in such a way detracts from the tragic atmosphere the film tries to build. Feng argued there should have been nothing to laugh at, blaming it on journalists and unprofessional critics themselves who had not fully understood the movie and the script. But some news outlets previously guessed that one of the causes is Chinese audience's long-standing impressions of comedian Ge You and Feng's former comedies. No one laughed at the Venice premiere since most of the audience did not know who Feng was.
At the evening's showing, most audience members gave warmer responses than critics did. When Feng Xiaogang asked if the movie was good as credits rolled, people cheered "good!" immediately.