The Banquet

dir. Feng Xiaogang

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) stars in director Feng Xiaogong's sumptuous wuxia epic, which transplants Shakespeare's Hamlet to tenth-century China.


Unfairly dismissed at the time as merely another in the spate of big-budget Mainland wuxia and historical epics that followed on the heels of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, The Banquet now looms larger in retrospect — not least because it marked the point where the film's director Feng Xiaogong went from being an accomplished small-scale journeyman to become the Mainland answer to Steven Spielberg, a decisive shift in scale which culminated in his massively successful 2010 IMAX production Aftershock. A loose adaptation of Hamlet set in tenth-century China, The Banquet finds some surprising intersections between Shakespeare's tale of the Melancholy Dane and traditional Chinese family values; rather than focusing on the dissolution of the angst-ridden prince, the film becomes rather a cautionary tale about the chaos that strikes the family when traditional roles are denied or break down. Featuring a fine cast — including Daniel Wu as the glum princeling and the ubiquitous Zhang Ziyi as a combination Gertrude/Ophelia — and a simply enormous scope in its sets and art direction, The Banquet is a more cerebral entry in the wuxia genre, but typically sterling work by the great fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping keeps the energy level high throughout.