The Banquet Feng Xiaogang

In Tenth Century China, Empress Wan (Ziyi Zhang) nurses a secret love for her stepson Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu). The sudden death of the Emperor leads to his throne being usurped by his evil brother Li (Ge You). Wan agrees to marry Li, seeing it as the only opportunity to save the Prince, whose position in the hierarchy is a threat to Li’s power. With this culture-shifted retelling of Hamlet, Feng Xiaogang presents an aesthetically pleasing, major commercial production. Already buzzing with comparisons to Zhang Yimou’s Hero and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it is that sort of film: epic in scale, with a star cast, beautifully choreographed battles and more expense than suspense. Zhang Li’s cinematography captures the scope of the production incredibly, the excess of that scope is best defined by the Emperor’s Palace, the largest movie set ever built in China. The task of the filmmaker, in taking inspiration from one of the most prestigious works in Western literature and adapting that text to an Asian setting, is no great feat. Japanese master Kurosawa did the same with many of Shakespeare’s plays, and his Hamlet-influenced crime drama, The Bad Sleep Well, which aimed the protagonist’s revenge squarely on unethical industrialists, didn’t rely on feudal settings, realising the universality of the tale’s conflicts. Unlike Kurosawa’s adaptations (Ran, Throne of Blood), Feng Xiaogang’s film does not probe the depths of love and pain in the Shakespearean narrative. Unexceptional adaptations of, or works with obvious influence from, the Shakespearean narrative come and go, but one such unexceptional work in Mandarin is bound for undue praise. Without extending the subtexts of the drama cinematically, "it is not, nor it cannot come to good.” (Media Asia)