Friday, September 29, 2006

THE BANQUET: Looks Delicious but..

THE BANQUET (drama in Mandarin)
Cast: Ziyi Zhang, Daniel Wu, Ge You and Qing Nu
Director: Feng Xiao-gang
Time: 128 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
The Banquet
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? The emperor is killed and his throne usurped by his brother (Ge You) who also has designs on the beautiful empress (Ziyi Zhang). The usurper sets out to kill the crown prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu) but fails. This sets off a series of court intrigues that involves revenge, betrayal and deceit.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Yes, the plot is a combination of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, MacBeth and even Romeo And Juliet. The motives and goals have been altered to suit the time frame of 10th Century China, the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. This production, obviously, is not to retell Shakespeare but an attempt at ‘poetic cinema’.

HIGHLIGHTS: Everything is mesmerisingly beautiful and opulent. This Banquet is a visual feast, with fantastic costumes, the biggest set of a Chinese palace ever built, and eye-boggling martial stunts by Yeun Wo-ping. Yeah, there are ‘wire-fu’ involved but these are more like dances with swords than fighting. The photography (by Zhang Li), a play on the colours gold, red and black, is superb and the Tan Dun’s music score adds the beat and nuance to the action. Ziyi is deliciously fetching and memorable as the scheming empress (Gertrude) while Ge You is fittingly vulnerable and pathetic in the Claudius role. Daniel Wu and Qing Nu are just adequate (as Hamlet and Orphelia, respectively).

LOWLIGHTS: Like the other China directors, Feng Xiao-gang fools around with narrative logic, providing ridiculous twists to its plots. These, however, are more forgivable than the incomprehensible ending that leaves us mystified.

THE LOWDOWN: Like the Imperial feasts of yore, this Banquet looks stylish and delicious but it is not filling enough.


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