A loose adaptation of Hamlet, "The Night Banquet" is set in an empire in chaos. The Emperor, the Empress, the Crown Prince, the Minister and the General all have their own enemies they would like to finish off at a night banquet.
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In 907 AD, the Tang Dynasty is in tatters; infighting snarls the imperial family. Crown Prince Wu Luan loves Little Wan, but his father takes her as his Empress. Wu Luan goes into exile, studying dance and music. His uncle murders his father, taking throne and Empress; uncle sends assassins to kill Wu Luan. The Crown Prince eludes death and comes to court. The Emperor arranges for Little Wan's coronation and dispatches Wu Luan to a distant land; he then calls for a midnight banquet on the 100th day of his rule. Poison, treachery, Wu Luan's return, and the love of the innocent Qing for Wu Luan set up the final entanglements. No Fortinbras or Horatio lay the dead to rest. Written by
THE BANQUET is the Chinese martial arts retelling of Shakespeare's HAMLET, a play with which I'm very familiar. The problem here is that THE BANQUET jettisons most of the good stuff leaving a flabby, overlong production that often looks fantastic but has no substance to go with the style. Almost all of the high drama from the original play has been removed and instead we get a familiar tale of court intrigue and a tyrannous emperor.
I really wanted to like this film, and the limited martial arts action is quite nice, with some HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS-inspired wirework and even a few gore effects thrown into a mix. It's a shame, then, that the characters are so resolutely one-dimensional and the entire storyline feels dragged out, particularly at the climax (which is hugely anti-climatic, given that the entire film builds towards it).
The cast do the best they can with the limited material. Daniel Wu is okay as the Hamlet character, but he's been better elsewhere (like ONE NIGHT IN MONGKOK). Ziyi Zhang is pretty good - and detestable - as the scheming Empress, and the others rarely disappoint; it's just a shame that the story is so lacking and that ambiguous ending just feels silly. Check out the same year's CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER: it's a similar milieu, a similar storyline, and MUCH better.
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