Chinese director Feng Xiaogang's long-expected art epic, The Banquet, will be premiered in Beijing on September 15. As the most anticipated film this year in China, the movie is a dark Chinese historical piece and a "breakthrough" for the director.
Compared with Feng's recent films, A World Without Thieves and Cell Phone, The Banquet is his most serious and artistic film yet, and also the most expensive, with an investment of US$20 million.
"I want to break the stereotypical impression many people have of me that I am only a successful director of comedies," said Feng recently while promoting the film in Shanghai. "A good director should have the passion and courage to touch wider genres."
Starting his career as a TV drama director, Feng has spent most of his 15 years directing black humor comedies, most of which have turned into box-office hits. Feng's trademarks are loopy characters, pun-laced scripts and an eye for satire. Fans are eagerly looking forward to seeing how the "master of humor" handles an artistic film.
"I can promise you that The Banquet is very striking. The story will pull you in from the beginning to end," said Feng.
Like Feng's other attempts, The Banquet aims for commercial success and, if successful, it could place him among the growing band of internationally recognized Chinese filmmakers.
The film focuses on the royal power struggle in ancient China and is dubbed as the Chinese version of Shakespeare's Hamlet by some critics.
"If Hamlet is about a prince who must make a choice between life and death, The Banquet is about how each character moves step-by-step toward the abyss," Feng said. "All are motivated by desire. They do not intend for evil, but turn to it out of self-protection and growing ambition."
It is no denying that The Banquet targets an overseas audience.
"It seems like Western audiences have an easier time accepting Asian stories set in ancient times. That's a reality," said Feng.
Zhang Ziyi brings her usual star power to the film. What's more, the 130-minute movie was composed by Oscar winner Tan Dun and the art director is Tim Yip, both acclaimed for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
"Chinese filmmakers should face up to the competition from Hollywood blockbusters," Feng said. "The best way is not seeking protection from the government, but by developing our own film industry and presenting wonderful commercial productions."
The movie also plans to compete in next year's Academy Awards for best foreign picture.
The Banquet follows Empress Wan (Zhang Ziyi) after she marries Li (Ge You), the power-hungry brother who murdered Wan's husband, the emperor. Meanwhile, the crowned prince Wu Luan (Danniel Wu) must watch his back. But his struggle is not with Li alone, and Wu encounters difficulty with his powerful step-mom and the innocent Qing Nu (Zhou Xun), both of whom are obsessed with the dark prince.
(China Daily September 8, 2006)