The Banquet (2006)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2006-11-13
Summary: Great visuals and acting, but drawn out...
In a script heavily influenced by Shakespeare's Hamlet, The Banquet is a film ripe with political intrigue, family strife and old-fashioned murder. Zhang Ziyi is Empress Wan, whose first husband (the Emperor) has been murdered by his own brother, Li (Ge You). Li is completely obsessed with Wan, and will do anything to insure that she becomes his Empress as well, and not the Empress Dowager. As Empress Dowager she would have complete control over the empire and the power-hungry Li cannot have this occur. Fearing that Wu Luan (Daniel Wu), the son of the original Emperor, will return and try and (in his opinion) usurp the thrown, Li tries multiple times to have Wu assassinated, but to no avail. When the Crown Prince Wu Luan eventually does return, the power plays between members of the household are at every turn. Unfortunately, even innocent bystanders like Wu's girlfriend Qing (Zhou Xun) are caught in the treachery.
The Banquet is an incredibly well acted film with absolutely stunning visuals. Feng Xiaogang has created an intriguing setting for one of Shakespeare's most famous plays and draws out the proceedings almost to a fault. As much as I enjoy watching Zhang Ziyi in all her scheming glory, I feel that the film could have been edited down from its 2 hour 10 minute length to about an hour and 45 minutes. The film sometimes feels too captive to its breathtaking sets and visuals and not attentive enough to the story, especially with a somewhat puzzling finale. It seems to be a trend in mainstream epic Chinese films these days to create sets that are above and beyond anything seen before. Maybe this is due to being able to stretch a budget further in China or the abundance of low-cost labor for set maintenance, but the film sometimes seems to get lost in those elaborate sets. Yuen Wo Ping's fight scenes are exciting, brutal and quite bloody, but sometime stray too much into slow motion and intricate posing. They are certainly not bad, but seem to be getting a bit stale. I would like to see some new directions taken in future movies that Yuen choreographs. It seems that he is involved with almost every big budget Chinese martial arts film that gets released, and he may need a break to recharge the creative batteries. In the music department, Tan Dun's score is soaring and fits well into the grandness of the movie. I think The Banquet lived up what I expected of it, but did not go above and beyond the similar movies that preceded it to reach a new level.
Reviewer Score: 7