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December 11, 2006

The Banquet


Ye Yan
Feng Xiaogang - 2006
Media Asia Region 3 DVD

Is it possible for a film to be too beautiful? There is much to admire about The Banquet, the color, the cinematography, and the score by Tan Dun immediately come to mind. There is much attention to detail, especially with close-ups of hands. While some of the plot elements are similar to Hamlet, as has been mentioned by others, The Banquet also owes quite a bit to Zhang Yimou's Hero with its swordsplay as well as court intrigue. That the film is also made from the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon template is made official by the presence of Zhang Ziyi.

There are echoes of other films and filmmakers as well, with nods in the direction of Akira Kurosawa and Orson Welles, not surprising considering their respective ties to Shakespeare. In a scene recalling Citizen Kane the emperor stands applauding alone for a moment until his courtiers join him. Blood spurts everywhere, rendering parts of the screen like a Jackson Pollack painting.

Feng emphasizes the balletic aspect of sword fighting. So much of the action is seen in slow motion, whether it's knights galloping in battle, or with overhead shots of flowing, billowing robes. This is great looking stuff, but Feng seems unaware of the concept that there may be too much of a good thing. Better are the scenes involving masked actors in white, a visual conceit that may be from 10th Century China, but also appears modern.

While Hamlet has been cited, Zhang Ziyi's character is closer to a more powerful Lady Macbeth. The Prince is more of a supporting player in this reworking of the story. Zhang's Empress Wan, more like Lady Macbeth than Gertrude, discovers that she loves power more than she loves either of her husbands and schemes her way to consolidate her position on the throne. With her top billing, The Banquet also serves as a metaphor for Zhang's ascent as the leading Chinese actress.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 11, 2006 05:08 AM


Zhang as Lady Macbeth ... hmm, quite possible. She has never attracted me in the slightest, and in fact I thought she just about ruined Crouching Tiger with a grating, petulant performance. Then again, I miss Gong Li as Zhang Yimou's muse, so perhaps I unjustly resent Zhang on Li's behalf.

Posted by: Campaspe at December 15, 2006 07:14 PM