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The Banquet - Review

The Banquet

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of The Banquet; Theatrical trailer.

FENG Xiaogang’s visually stunning The Banquet (Ye Yan) is a must-see for fans of martial arts epics such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The House of Flying Daggers and Curse Of The Golden Flower.

Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the film offers a twisting tale of love, deceit, sacrifice and betrayal that’s notably more violent and sexy than many of its predecessors.

The story picks up in the aftermath of the assassination of the Emperor by his ambitious brother, Li (Ge You), as Empress Wan (Zhang Ziyi) reluctantly agrees to remain loyal to the usurper while trying to protect her stepson, the crown prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu), from Li’s clutches.

As the politics of the fragile new alliance threaten to explode, however, Wu Luan must choose between fighting for his place as rightful ruler or accpeting his fate, while Empress Wan sets into motion her own devious plan to grasp power.

Xiaogang – whose other recent film credit was the excellent war epic Assembly – takes his time to create a richly absorbing tale of love and revenge that should keep viewers guessing until the very end.

But while certainly talky in places, the director is careful to punctuate proceedings with some breathtaking action set pieces (choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, of The Matrix and Kill Bill fame) that are as balletic as they are astonishingly bloody.

Unlike his contemporaries, Zhang Yimou or Ang Lee, Xiaogang doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the blood-letting and in one mind-spinning sequence early on expertly marries some beautiful choreography with some no-nonsense violence (including shots of decapitated heads).

Similarly, he heightens the eroticism inherent in the various relationships, exposing flesh like never before, and appealing to a much more adult audience.

The various motivations of the numerous central characters are equally complex, thereby ensuring that the surprise denouement does, indeed, shock as it’s supposed to whilst still being surrounded by an element of ambiguity.

Inevitably, The Banquet does suffer a little from the fact that it follows in the footsteps of the likes of Hero and House Of Flying Daggers but it’s every bit as stunning to behold and still manages to dazzle with the audacity of its set pieces. As such, it’s another successful addition to a consistently breathtaking genre.

In Mandarin, with subtitles

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 10mins
UK DVD Release: June 2, 2008