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THE BANQUET aka Legend of the Black Scorpion (HK/China)

  Publicity Stills of "The Banquet"
Courtesy of Shaw

Genre: Drama
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Starring: Zhang Ziyi, Ge You, Daniel Wu, Zhou Xun
RunTime: 2 hrs 11 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: NC-16
Official website: www.thebanquetthemovie.com

Opening Day: 15 Sept 2006



When her brother-in-law ascends the throne after the King’s death, the Queen agrees to marry him in order to protect her stepson. Convinced that his uncle has murdered his father, the Prince decides to return to the palace and take revenge. Everything culminates in a night banquet where all hell will break loose.

Movie Review:

Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Banquet has all the potential plot devices to engage the viewers emotionally but ultimately squanders it off without achieving any arousing performance or any climatic finale.

There’s the prince (Daniel Wu) whose father, the emperor, had just died a questionable death and the chief suspect, the prince’s uncle (Ge You), who is going to be the next Emperor will be marrying the late Emperor’s Queen (Zhang Ziyi). The bit that differs from the classic Hamlet would be that the Queen was once the Prince’s lover before the late Emperor took her as his wife. And if that’s not complicated enough, a General’s daughter (Zhou Xun) who was supposed to be engaged with Prince now finds herself in the midst of a struggle for love and power.

The star anchor for this film would most definitely be the internationally renowned and well-loved actress Zhang Ziyi. Her role as the Gerturude (of Hamlet) inspired character saw an interesting twist to the classic. Such a hotly debated incestuous relationship has made its way into The Banquet. Zhang Ziyi has handled love triangle roles before (House of Flying Dagger) and she continues in this movie. Viewers witness her ability to display arrogance and vulnerability in this show, continuing her fine accolade of performances in this portrayal of the power hungry Queen who is being manipulated by the circumstances in the palace. But one seeking for another breakthrough performance from her will be disappointed.

For the role as “Hamlet” in the Banquet, Daniel Wu achieved what Orlando Bloom did for Kingdom of Heaven. In a way, both good looking guys did well enough to carry their characters off but simply lacked of the extra oomph to give their characters that extra edge to make it memorable. The characterization of the Prince was significantly cut down to a supporting role which denied Daniel Wu the chance to push his character to its full potential.

There were earlier reports of laughers during the dramatic scenes featuring Ge You in China preview. While local viewers might not be familiar with Ge You’s comedic performance of the past, his portrayal as the unscrupulous usurper was adequate and believable. Viewers are only treated to Ge You’s underhanded methods in taking over the throne and the Queen but not rewarded with King Claudius’s capable manner of running the country or his remorse for his actions which significantly remove the possibility of the range of dimension of this character.

The actress that really stole the show would be Zhou Xun. She has the most limited amount of scenes in this movie as the unwanted lover, yet she draws out the most emotional bits of the film as the lovelorn girl who dares to defy the King for her love. What is more, as evident in “Perhaps Love”, this talented actress also got the vocal capabilities to impress as she belted out one song during this movie.

Besides the plot devices and credible actors that are poised to win viewers over, there were the top notch production set, cinematography, music and action sequences which by themselves are worth the admission tickets. The production and the cinematography invokes a sense of awe and “Zen”-ness to the film. These two aspects of the film are definitely worthy of taking part in contention for the best production and cinematography during the next Oscars.

Tan Dun and Yuen Wo Ping’s trademark in their respective field of expertise are felt and thoroughly enjoyed, however, it doesn’t really seem to add value to the film. In one of the supposedly more emotional scenes where the actor was pouring out their heartfelt lines with the lush Tan Dun’s track playing in the background drumming for sadness, the viewers could only see and hear but does not feel what the combination of the trio were attempting.

Likewise, the action choreography is a delight to watch, however, one can’t help but wonder if it was derailing the film. In this drama intense movie, does the action element work well or even go with the flow of this film? Sadly, in a way, it became a stumbling block for this film to build up on its emotion.

With all the richest ingredients in this world, perhaps the fault lies in the executing of the fire in the brewing of all the elements together in this film. The director’s previous film, World without Thieves, was made with a smaller budget, less fanciful sets but with only the heart left one wanting for more. It’s sad to see that Feng Xiao Gang is unable to follow suit in a lethal combination where everything else is present but the most prominent essence: the heart of the film.

Touted as the next China nomination for the Academy Awards Best foreign language award even before the completion of the film, The Banquet will most likely not achieve the ovation that Hero received during its nomination but will definitely fare better than The Promise and House of Flying Daggers.

Movie Rating:

(This banquet boosts lavish production, credible actors, and spectacular fight sequences but ultimately left viewers emotionally starved)

Review by Richard Lim Jr


. The Warlords (2007)

. The Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

. A Battle of Wits (2006)

. Fearless (2006)

. House of Flying Daggers (2004)


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