AKA: Legend of the Black Scorpion
Year of release: 2006
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Action director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Producers: Wang Zhongjun, John Chong
Writers: Sheng Heyu, Qiu Gangjian
Cinematography: Zhang Li
Editor: Liu Miaomiao
Music: Tan Dun
Stars: Zhang Ziyi, Ge You, Daniel Wu, Zhou Xun, Ma Jingwu, Huang Xiaoming
Not rated; contains IIB-level violence and brief nudity
Movie Review Index
Sporting the largest budget for a Mainland production ever, The Banquet is simply a delight to look at. There are a few CGI-enhanced scenes, but most of the splendor was created with good old fashioned elbow sweat, through huge sets and sumptuous costumes. It's truly refreshing to see a fil that purports to be an epic that actually looks the part.
Though it's more of a Chinese re-telling of the classic Shakespare story "Hamlet" and not an action movie by any stretch of the imagination, The Banquet also sports some impressive fight scenes, which are helmed by Yuen Woo-Ping. Though Yuen's work in this type of film is getting to be a bit cookie-cutter -- he tends to overuse tropes like a lot of slow-motion shots of flowy robes -- the action scenes here are well put together for the most part. This particular reviewer also appreciated the fact that there was a good amount of blood. Nothing gives a little punch to a sword fight like spurts of claret.
Acting-wise, The Banquet also handles itself well. What was really nice about it is that all of the main actors managed to create characters that were neither truly good nor truly evil. Far too many Chinese period dramas attempt to pin characterization on broad cariacture, and fail miserably in the process. I wouldn't say any of the acting was award-winning, but at least none of it -- even Daniel Wu's first attempt at a Mandarin lead role -- made me cringe.
But what really solidifies The Banquet is the screenplay and direction. Even though most people out there know the basic story of "Hamlet" -- and thus the big twist at the end -- The Banquet portrays the story in such a way that even one of the oldest endings in literature seems new and fresh. It's a bit hard to describe in print, but director Feng Xiaogang knows the perfect amount of information to give to the viewer, always keeping them interested in what will happen next without dumbing down thigns too much.
Though The Banquet doesn't really present anything that hasn't been shown before, especially in this day and age where Chinese historical epic productions seem to be coming out once a month, and suffers a bit from over-length, it's still an extremely solid costume/period drama that should please most fans of Chinese cinema.