ANOTHER GREAT 2 DISC SET FROM DRAGON DYNASTY
fmwaalex | Austin, TX USA | 09/17/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"LEGEND OF THE BLACK SCORPION
I have always been a fan of Asian cinema ever since I was born obviously as any one who has read my stuff before will tell you. As I have collected film after film and anime after anime [I hunt down the live action while my girl hunts down all anime] I'd like to think I have a pretty good collection. That is why when the Weinstein Brothers created the Dragon Dynasty company to introduce more of these films to an American audience. Here we have the very beautiful "Legend of the Black Scorpion" or "The Banquet" in its entire glorious splendor, it really is a wonderfully shot film.
This film is a take on Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and tries to tell that story in a new way, on some levels it works and on others it fails. Directed by Xiaogang Feng this film is very amazing as far as style and cinematography but the storytelling lacks a little, underdeveloped characters hamper the film a bit. Still there is a lot good with this film and is worthy of your time but be prepared as it does move a bit slow. But it is based on a really well known and famous play so it has elements that will be appealing to the average viewer.
Empress Wan (Ziyi Zhang) has lost her husband and is now being put into a relationship with her brother in law Emperor Li (You Ge) as he wants the power of the kingdom. The thing is she has a thing for her step son Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu), and this is not lost on Emperor Li. He hires some assassins to kill the prince so that there will be no competition to the throne. But they fail to do so and the prince makes his way back to the kingdom. Upon arriving it is announced by the Emperor that there will be a banquet and it is in this a plan is devised to end the Emperor.
The film starts very strong and is at its most enjoyable throughout the first half of the film, but it starts to lack and can't keep the pace going. Also like I said before the film is beautiful and just amazingly shot, to be honest it really is a spectacle for the eyes more often than not. The astonishing and breathtaking cinematography mixed with wonderful scenery and sets make this a wonder to the retina. Add in the wonderful atmosphere and great slow motion fight scenes this is a good film.
But that does not mean it is a perfect movie, in fact one of its positives is also a negative. The slow motion fight sequences tend to be over used a bit here, it is better than it is bad but it is still an issue. Still the biggest flaw of the film is the lack of character development, for such a beautiful film there is a lack of emotion from the characters that can not be over looked. Ziyi Zhang does a good job here as does everyone really but the script did not add enough depth to the characters. To be honest this really did have a good chance at being a classic, any film that has Yuen Woo-Ping, Tim Yip, Li Zhang, and Xiaogang Feng behind the scenes had that potential.
The film does not reach that classic status but is very much worth a look if you have never seen it. The original release of course is great but for any American fan that may be interested may want to pick up the Dragon Dynasty release. It is comes with some great special features in a 2 disc collection including a great commentary track with Bey Logan. Of course the behind the scenes and all that stuff is featured as well, so I do recommend getting this film.
A DRAMA OF COURT INTRIGUE, AND THE LUST FOR POWER
Josef Bush | Phoenix, AZ | 01/17/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The version I bought doesn't have the same cover art as this one does, but is a beautifully packaged Chinese Collector's Edition with a portrait of the fabulously beautiful actress and heroine of this story, Zhang Ziyi, as she stars in her first adult role, that of the Dowager Empress. Some observers have suggested that this movie (La Legende de la Scorpion Noir, in my French voice-over) or BANQUET, on the cover, is based on Shakespeare's HAMLET. That may ultimately be true. However, though there are similarities, it need not become a distraction.
If BANQUET were a Shakespeare adaptation, it might remind one of THRONE OF BLOOD, the Japanese take on MACBETH, or RAN, Kurosawa's thrilling take on KING LEAR. However, in that case one views the HAMLET story, through the eyes of the Prince, who detests the marriage of his mother, Queen Gertrude, to her brother-in-law and his uncle, King Claudius. In that case, the problem is what to do with her son, the heir to the throne?
In this re-writing, before the story even begins, she Zhang Ziyi was not the prince's young mother, but his young fiancee. No incest problem. The death of the Emperor and the resultant confusion at court is only intensified when she agrees to marry the new Emperor (her brother-in-law) and the Prince goes into hiding in a kind of Monastary/Theatre School, specializing in poetry and dance.
The film begins, actually, as a messenger of the Court arrives to invite the prince to return to Court, only minutes before a squad of assassins sent by the Emperor arrives, to kill him. He escapes, and makes his way back to Court and lives there under the protection of the new Empress, his former fiancee, who loves him at least as much as she loves the prestiege and power of her new position. In this story, all the problems of the situation are hers, not the Prince's.
Eventually we learn that the former Emperor was murdered (by his brother, it seems) by means of a powdered compound made in part from the essence of a black scorpion which is blown into the victim's ear, through a feather. That's a detail very like the murder of Hamlet's father, by a poison in liquid form poured into his ear.
Another similarity to the Hamlet story is the adoration of a young woman of the Court for the Prince. As with Ophelia, his feelings about this innocent and loving girl are sexual, but ambiguous, and cannot be resolved.
The most striking difference between the two stories of Court intrigue is that here, there are no ghosts, and the Prince does not ever hallucinate his father.
But all these details are superficial distractions. My advice is to abandon if you can, every reference you've heard between this film and the Shakespeare play, and simply sit back, relex and enjoy an historical drama of psychological complexity, produced with exceptional beauty and style, and played skillfully by some of the best film actors you'll ever see, in a specifically Chinese historical context, but with universal appeal. The music is good, the sets and costumes are georgeous, and often spectacular, and if you follow the characters and their relations with one another, you will grasp and enjoy the story in its entirety. The cultural differences between this production and any European story of similar type, are unavoidable; however the human emotions that motivate the characters are universal. The behaviors of the characters may puzzle children and adolescents, they will not trouble adults at all.
BANQUET, or CURSE (or venom, actually) OF THE BLACK SCORPION is a piece of adult entertainment in the grand style.