The Banquet is an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet by well-recognised director, Fong Xiao Kang. The Banquet depicts the tragic love story of a prince, Wu Luan (Daniel Wu), who loses his lover to the Emperor, his father. So, his lover, Wan Er (Zhang Zhi Yi), is now his ‘mother’, the Empress. He exiles himself far away from the court and immerses himself in dance and music. He drowns himself in the sorrowful tunes of his life story while always hiding behind a white mask.

Meanwhile, winds of change brew in the royal court as the Emperor’s uncle poisons his brother, the Emperor, and usurps the throne. He also has his eyes and hands on the beautiful Empress. ‘Thrift, thrift, Horatio. The funeral baked meats/ Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables,’ Hamlet commented. The Empress changes from sombre black to ceremonial red robes before the prince has even returned for his father’s funeral. But the Empress is not as willing or weak a partner as Hamlet’s mother, the Queen. While Hamlet’s Queen Gertrude seems ignorant of the usurper’s evil deeds, the Empress is fully aware of the fact and plays along to save the prince’s life and her own.

The Empress is smarter compared to the stubborn and wilful prince who returns to the palace after escaping the Emperor’s assassination attempt on his life. He puts up a mime that reveals the poisoning of his father, the murdered Emperor, by his uncle at the latter’s coronation. At this direct confrontation, the Emperor sends the prince away to the Khatans’s country and secretly orders his assassination during the journey. The Empress is wise to the Emperor’s plans and plots to have a minister save Wu Luan. She holds the minister’s daughter’s life in her hands as guarantee that her commands would be carried out. Besides her usefulness as pawn, the minister’s daughter is incidentally in love with the prince and has evoked the Empress’ deep jealousy. But the innocent lady and the melancholic prince are no match for the brilliant strategies, passion, and manoeuvring of the Empress.

In The Banquet, the show belongs to her and no one is more able than Zhang Zhi Yi, the reigning Goddess of the Asian film martial art scene, in carrying out the role. The rest of the cast also play their roles well to complement Zhang Zhi Yi. The prince is suitably melancholic and idealistic to evoke sympathy, the minister’s daughter embodies pure love in her character while the Emperor is subtly dangerous enough in his role to excite fear and hatred. Only the Emperor’s abrupt change of heart in the final scene warrants some scepticism and disbelief. When the prince is sent away, the Empress plays her ultimate hand. She attempts to poison the Emperor and install herself as the new Emperor. But her plans go awry when the minister’s daughter accidentally drinks from the Emperor’s poisoned cup. She dies in the prince’s embrace as he reveals himself from the troupe of dancers.

The Emperor realises that the Empress has tried to poison him and in total disillusionment, he kills himself by drinking the rest of the poison. This is the part which becomes slightly incredulous as the director or the plot has not prepared the audience enough for the sudden turn of events. It would have been more characteristic of the Emperor to have the Empress and the prince brutally murdered to secure his throne. Meanwhile, the minister’s son draws a blade to kill the Empress, whom he deems as the cause of his beloved sister’s death. But the prince grabs the blade before he can plunge it into the Empress. The blade is naturally poisoned and the prince dies. The Empress quickly kills the vengeful brother with the same blade.

Fong Xiao Kang’s interpretation of Hamlet portrays stronger woman roles both physically, intellectually and emotionally. This is most attractive and appealing in our modern context. Besides, the plot of Hamlet is adhered to without being dogmatic or unnatural. The themes are similar with interesting twists, not the least in the open-ended ending. While the Empress becomes the most powerful woman in the kingdom, she mourns her lost love. She sits alone despite her clever plotting and endless sacrifice for her heart’s desire. While power is hers, she yearns for love, which simultaneously reflects a woman’s true potential and curse. But the surprise ending is yet to come. The movie ends with her being killed by an anonymous assassin whilst sitting in this mournful position. A blade flies and stabs into her back. The power struggle is endless though love is eternal. That is the strong and powerful message of the movie. While the movie cannot capture the liveliness, wit and vigour of verse in Hamlet, it is certainly a commendable, artistic, beautiful, and interesting interpretation of Shakespeare’s masterpiece.