juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Last night Devon and I watched the 2006 Chinese film The Banquet (directed by Feng Xiaogang, released in America as Legend of the Black Scorpion). We have a shared love for Chinese wuxia films ("a broad genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists set in ancient China"), so it had been on our Netflix queue for a while. Wonderful serendipity that we watched it last night, because the play is a loose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. This is wonderful synchronicity not just because I recently saw Hamlet at OSF (and so had a refresher course in the play), but also because I just finished reading Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked, which not only provides commentary on traditional Red Riding Hood tales—it looks at how that well-known story is reinvented and retold. Speaking on Freeway, a 1996 film retelling, Orenstein writes:

Unlike the oral tradition of long ago, Freeway is viewed (or read) not only in contemporary context but also against the fairy tale's long history. It plays off the literary canon and its legacy of messages, cleverly manipulating audience expectation and generating a virtual meta-plot. In its irreverent treatment of fairy-tale conventions, Freeway provides a chance to recap the tale's stock characters and themes and to reexamine the laws by which they survive and adapt.

Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked, Catherine Orenstein, page 227


...Freeway exposes and explores the fairy tale's underpinnings in sophisticated ways, and in particular plays with the conventions that shape the fairy tale's stock cast. Since, from a structural perspective, the fairy tale's functions are defined independently of the characters who are "supposed" to fulfill them, the characters can swap places, playing against readers' (or viewers') expectations of both fairy tale and of real life. In this sense, they resonate not only with our internalized sense of who they are but also against our constant awareness of who they are not.

Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked, Catherine Orenstein, pages 234-5

The Banquet is a loose interpretation of Shakespeare's play in that principle characters (Hamlet, Claudius, Gertrude; Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia) and key events and aspects (Claudius's fratricide, Gertrude's wedding to Claudius, Ophelia's love for Hamlet, the play within a play, Claudius's exile and attempted assassination of Hamlet, the deaths of almost all the key players) reoccur, but others are omitted and all aspects are open to rearrangement or reinvention. That is to say, the film takes a story which is an established part of literary canon and, as such, carries "a legacy of messages"; it references characters and aspects of the play (sometimes comparably inconsequential ones, such as Hamlet's studies prior to the start of the play and the singing which accompanies Ophelia's tragic decent) enough to trigger and refresh the viewer's awareness of the connection between play and film, but it alters a number of these aspects, omitting plot points and characters, but more tellingly changing the story.

The Banquet stands alone as a competent but ultimately unmemorable film. It's quieter than some of its cousins from the genre, not half as visually striking; the story is intriguing, Ziyi Zhang's acting in particular is wonderful, but the martial arts sequences feel gratuitous and lack polish. In short a good film to watch but perhaps not necessary to own: beautiful but not extraordinary, it never quite becomes a standout performance.

Where the film shines (in my admittedly biased eyes) is in its meta-commentary on Hamlet—what it keeps, but more importantly what it changes. A lengthy analysis of The Banquet within the context of Hamlet, with spoilers. )

The Banquet is hardly the best in its genre, either as a Chinese historical martial arts film or as a retelling of a Shakespearean play. On its own I recommend it only moderately, but it's worth a watch. But the timing, as I think and read about what it is to retell a classic story, and as I have Hamlet fresh on my mind, is exceptional. I know that this post is too long and the subject matter is too specific (and, given the film, obscure) for many of you to care or, if you care, to follow, but I had to write it down in order to get it out of my head. And for fun. Because I'm strange. The end.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

September 2017

345 6789
1011 12 13141516


RSS Atom


Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags