Movie Review : The Banquet

"What more deadlier than the deadliest poison is the human heart."

The last time I ever watched a chinese movie in the cinema was Hero Fearless. Two days ago we decided to watch The Banquet, a surprise choice by my bf. This movie featured Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, Zhou Xun and Ge You, and apparently is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet.


The movie is set in 10th century China. It deals with the themes of revenge and fate. The movie begins with a scene where Prince Wu Luan (DW) emmersing himself in dance and a white mask with his fellow performers, singing about the loneliness of his heart. The narrator then explained that Wu Luan's father, the Emperor married Wu Luan's lover, and she became Empress Yan (ZZY) and in dispair, he retreated to the wood and acting so wierd. Then the Emperor died mysteriously, and his brother immediately accended the throne as Emperor Li (GY), taking his dead brothers wife, and declaring her as Empress yet again.

Emperor Li then tried very hard to get rid of Wu Luan, but somehow he always escapes, partly due to Empress Wan, who still have feelings for him, dispite now being his Stepmum/Auntie (which I felt was totally creepy, if you try to link the relationship together). To further complicate things is Qing Nu (ZX), who loves Wu Luan with all her heart, but knows she has no place in his. The innocent Qing Nu will do anything to dispel his loneliness, even death.

Wu Luan eventually discovered the real killer - who else but his uncle - and plots revenge. His performance during the Empress coronation is mimicking how his father died, much to the terror of Emperor Li. Again, attempt to assasinate Wu Luan failed, but no one knew about this except the Empress and the top minister.

The climax was during the midnight banquet itself, where everyone has their own plans to overthrow one another. The Empress wanted to poison the Emperor through the wine ; the Emperor already planned to denounce his top minister as a traitor ; The top minister, who knew about the Empress' plan, decided to betray her by declaring her a traitor and let his own son become Emperor. Who knows that Qing Nu who spoilt it all. Her sincere performance to commemorate Wu Luan's death ended up in death after she unknowingly drank the poisoned wine offered by the Emperor, who at that time didn't realised it was poisened. Wu Luan, who was secretly performing with her, spent the last seconds hugging her.

The Emperor was then so disheartened that his wife wanted to kill him, he drank the remaining wine, and died in her lap. The top minister's son, anguished at his sister Qing Nu's death, wanted to kill the Empress, but his blade was stopped by Wu Luan. Unknowing to Wu Luan, the blade was poisoned, so he died quite an instant death. The top minister's son ended up dead too, for the Empress herself struck a blade across his face.

So everyone dies in the end - including Empress Wan, who was killed by an unknowned assassin. Actually almost everyone died. The top minister was banished elsewhere, but he would die sooner or later, since he was already so old.

The story is actually very slow moving, and I personally find the dance performance very excruciating. But other than that, I was very impressed with the cinematography, the rich colours of the costumes, and the haunting OST. Zhang Zi Yi gives a good protrayal of Empress Wan - her emotions and desire for both Wu Luan and the throne, love and power - were displayed in her character well, especially towards the end, where she basked in the glory of becoming Emperor even after losing everyone, only to be struck by the mysterious blade. The final scene is the best, where you see her expression changed, from shock to betrayal to dismay, before they show the murder weapon being discarded in a place no one would expect to find.

My last question (and I'm sure everyone else's as well) would be : Who killed Empress Wan?
My guess is Wu Luan (coz the blade is owned by him), but my bf's guess is the Emperor, who faked his death. Anyway, that will never be answered, as my guess it is the intention of the director.

The lesson learnt is the first sentence of my posting - and it's because the deadliest poison is the heart or mind set to poison another, it brings to the downfall of everyone else, including the innocent. (There's another meaning of the masks in the movie, but I guess I have enough of masks for now.)

So will you let your heart remain poisoned, or will you heal it? Every Shakespearean tragedy subtly asks this question. The tragic death of Romeo and Juliet was the outcome of two family feuds. Hamlet protrays the same outcome too.

Do you have the answer yet?

The real tragedy would be to miss the moral of this story, to not have the answer in the end.