Director Feng Xiaogang's epic The Banquet, starring Memoirs of a Geisha actress Zhang Ziyi, had its world premiere at the 63rd Venice Film Festival on Sunday. Except for some 10 Chinese reporters, most of the audience was made up of foreign media and movie buyers.
Unlike the film's domestic debut last week in Guangzhou, where most of the Chinese reporters laughed it off, the audience in Venice found the film confusing and disappointingly Western.
A loose adaptation of Hamlet, The Banquet is set in an empire in chaos. The emperor, the empress and the prince all have their own enemies they would like to finish off at a banquet.
When the movie was shown in Guangzhou last Thursday, Chinese reporters laughed out loud ironically and left during an awkward scene. The traditional Chinese literary language left the audience confused.
Ge You, who plays the emperor, got laughs whenever he appeared since Chinese moviegoers are familiar with his comedy roles and found his seriousness unnatural. As for the plot, most Chinese critics gave The Banquet negative reviews, saying they didn't understand what Feng was trying to say.
For the premiere in Venice, the dialogue was dubbed into English and changed from the original Chinese, and the embarrassing scene was gone.
Still, some foreign reporters left before the movie ended. After the screening, some reporters just made polite responses, saying the movie was "nice".
Some said they didn't understand the ending. Some Italian critics wanted a more Chinese film. Summing up their comments: As far as the plot and structure are concerned, the movie is too Occidental. We hope to see a Chinese movie with Chinese style or taste here in Italy. But we feel a bit disappointed. If the background was cut out, we could hardly tell that this was a Chinese movie.
Feng and actors Zhang Ziyi and Zhou Xun went to Venice to promote the movie. Ge You didn't go because he fears flying.
Wang Yang, spokeswoman for Huayi Brothers Film Investment Co. Ltd., China's biggest private filmmaker, said earlier that the movie's distribution rights in Britain, France and Spain have been sold.
The movie will be released across Asia on September 15.
(Shenzhen Daily September 5, 2006)