Saturday, 1 May 2010



Because this is basically another liberal adaptation of Hamlet in the vein of Curse Of The Golden Flower, complete with outlandish costumes, elaborate rituals and full of characters willing to kill themselves and others for no good reason beyond loyalty to the Emperor. Despite the involvement of Yuen Woo Ping (or spelling variants) there's not a vast amount in the way of fight sequences, and the few that we do see tend to be over-reliant on wirework. While there's a certain grace and beauty in these sequences, it does tend to undercut the danger when the characters can actually fly, and the laws of physics will always trump the laws of aesthetics.

What The Banquet does have in abundance is stately intrigue. Following the suspicious poisoning of his Emperor father, who had married Wuwuan's childhood sweetheart, Crown Prince Wuwuan legs it into the forest to seek solace in drama and music. The now-Empress has asked Wuwuan back to the Palace as she is going to be married to the late Emperor's brother and crowned Empress again. The new Emperor - Wuwuan's uncle, if you're keeping track - doesn't want the prince back and sends assassins after him: obviously a big mistake. But who did kill the Emperor? Will the killer be revealed at the coronation through Wuwuan's theatrical presentation?

And what The Banquet also holds is astounding visual opulence, from the massive palace sets and ludicrously ornate costumes - seriously compromised by the frankly absurd decision to release a cropped 1.85 widescreen print rather than the 2.35 full widescreen and obviously panned-and-scanned. Still, the opening attack on the theatre in the forest is particularly beautiful to watch, with the actors in white robes and expressionless masks and the villainous assassins in heavy black armour. And the drama certainly does keep you watching; despite of putting it on quite late I was never in danger of nodding off even at a scratch over two hours running time. Somewhat annoyingly, however, the death of one major character is deliberately unexplained: the filmmakers don't necessarily need to join all the dots but they should at least include them. Of this decade's rush of wuxia epics, this isn't really up there with the best of them (I was never a big Crouching Tiger fan but loved Hero and House Of Flying Daggers) but, aspect ratio frustration aside, it's worth seeing.


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