Thursday, 23 October 2014
The Banquet (4½ Stars)
In America this film was released as "Legend of the Black Scorpion". While there is some mention of scorpions during the film, as the main ingredient of a powerful poison, I find the name "The Banquet" more suitable. According to the text accompanying the DVD the film is an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet", but I fail to see a connection. Maybe one of my readers can help me out.
The story takes place in 10th Century China. The Emperor's son, Prince Wu Luan, is in love with a beautiful noblewoman, Little Wan. Before they can get married the Emperor takes Little Wan as his wife and gives Qing, the daughter of his first minister Yin, to Wu Luan as wife. Rather than marry Qing, Wu Luan runs away to become a dancer and actor.
Three years later the Emperor is murdered by his brother Li, who becomes the new Emperor. Li marries Little Wan and she continues to be Empress. Wu Luan returns to the imperial court, feigning obedience to his uncle while waiting for a chance to avenge his father's death. He still loves Little Wan, but feels that it would not be right to marry a woman that he calls his mother. He reunites with Qing, who has loved him all this time. She is devoted to him, but sad because she knows that he really loves somebody else.
Emperor Li doesn't trust Wu Luan and appoints him ambassador to a distant kingdom in order to keep him far away. When Qing asks for permission to accompany him the Empress (as Little Wan is now known) becomes jealous and orders Qing to be whipped. Qing's brother decides to take revenge, but unknown to anyone the Empress is planning to kill her husband and become the sole ruler. It becomes a race against time to see who will kill who first.
The film is very melodramatic and bears all the characteristics of a tragedy. The fight scenes are very stylised, looking more like ballet than battle. Rather than the vibrant colours typical for modern Chinese films, there is a lot of black and white. Zhang Ziyi proves her skill as an actress by portraying a conflicted woman who feels a deep love, but puts her political career first.
Unfortunately, the DVD release is unsatisfactory. The picture has been cropped to full screen aspect ratio, and for most of the film the picture is blurred. I've been informed that the Blu-ray release is better.