It’s right, too, that it has been given a family audience-denying certificate; not just, it must be said, for swishing scenes of head-severing, blood-spurting, ritualised violence, which alternate rhythmically with the sloth-slow court intrigue: they’re stylised out of all meaningful offence or shock. Rather, younger viewers may have been bemused by the air of suppressed eroticism that suffuses its episodes of poisonous romantic intrigue. ‘Emperor knows how to pleasure a woman,’ says Ziyi Zhang’s porcelain beauty, the widowed Tang dynasty empress being massaged by her brother-in-law, the new emperor and her ex-husband’s assassin.
Daniel Wu injects a more dynamic thrust as the returned prince, the new empress’s supposed true love and fellow swordmaster, and brings relief with him as the movie mutates into a more orthodox, martial arts-inflected, revenge tragedy played out finally at the elaborate banquet organised for the 100th day of the emperor’s reign. But overall ‘The Banquet’ is too drawn-out, lacking the originality and sprightliness those such as Zhang Yimou and Ang Lee brought to similar fare, and overly conspicuous in its designs on the approval of the international art movie audience.