The Banquet is a Chinese wuxia film from 2006 which has a little bit of kung fu action mixed with drama, taking place during the end of the Tang Dynasty. It’s a loose adaption of Hamlet by William Shakespeare.
We are introduced to this movie with the knowledge that the Emperor has just died. While the official story is a Scorpion bite, we quickly learn that he has killed by his brother, with his throne being usurped by him. The late Emperor’s son, Prince Wu Luan, is living away from the family after his father married the girl he loved – Empress Wan (Zhang Ziyi).
The new Emperor, Li, has dispatched assassins to kill the young Prince whilst the Empress has sent him word that the Emperor plans to kill him.
Evading death The prince returns home and things start to get messy. There is a little bit of unrest as the Crown Prince should technically be Emperor, but he doesn’t want the position. More so, Emperor Li doesn’t want to give up his position, and before long it is basically decided that he should be the Emperor after all.
Despite all of this the Emperor still wants the Prince Wu Luan dead, and the Empress doesn’t. So naturally tensions rise as each member of this little triangle try to play their own hand by way of revenge or assassination. All of this leads up to a Banquet, planned by the Emperor, when all of the cards are layed out on the table (metaphorically – there’s no poker in this movie) and the deceit and tension are finally released – and we see who ends up on top.
More drama than Martial Arts..
This movie is done magnificently and tells a great story – but I’m really over these kinds of movies. It reminds me a little of Curse of the Golden Flower – only nowhere near as good.
We seem trapped in this imperial palace, watching a Chinese version of days of our lives with the added element of wire-fu and murder. Each character plays each other and plots terrible things but it all seems pretty flat as it very slowly builds to the final banquet. As a fan of action films I was bored shitless but I never expected a mindless fight movie. I appreciate a good story but there aren’t really any characters that are relatable in this film, I just couldn’t feel for any of them.
The ending was done quite well though, and makes a good statement on deceit – showing there is always another hand to be played by someone else. It’s a vicious cycle an multiple levels and is has a truly unpredictable outcome. As far as climaxes go it’s definitely well written.
This really is a character movie as we get a bit of insight into each character, their feelings, goals and plans to make everything go their way.
Story aside the movie looks spectacular, the costumes are brilliant and the sets are stunning and huge. You really get the feeling that these people lived in a whole different level of luxury to most. Whoever was involved in creating the look of this film did a marvelous job with the look.
The Action & Martial Arts
It all seems to be more artistic than action driven as the gravity defying Wire Fu performances dominate the fights of this movie. The old Crouching Tiger style flight takes place often in this film, and is more opera style fighting than realistic and action packed.
There is a decent amount of fights in this film as we see the Prince fending off assassination attempts and practicing his sword work, but what I really enjoyed most was the fight between Wu Luan and the Guards at the end. We see some nice choreography performed very well by Daniel Wu.
More of an artistic film than a martial arts film, although it still has the merit. I personally prefer realism in fights and not wire fu. If you do enjoy Wire Fu and these long dramatic movies that Zhang Ziyi seems to mostly do, then check it out! Otherwise keep going and find something better.
On Blu Ray –
Region A (US & Canada)
Legend of the Black Scorpion (Ultimate Edition) [Blu-ray]
Region Free (All Countries)
The Banquet [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Legend of the Black Scorpion
Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
The Banquet  [DVD]