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Film / Legend of the Black Scorpion

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The Banquet, known also by its international release title Legend of the Black Scorpion, is a 2006 wuxia adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet, with a few notable changes and twists. Gertrude's expy, the Empress Wan, is rewritten as a much younger and more ambitious woman, who is playing a game of her own as the revenge plot marches on.

In the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, Wu Luan is a prince who leaves home to pursue the arts and forget his heartbreak, since his father the Emperor has married Wan, the girl Wu Luan loves. Three years later, his uncle murders his father and takes the throne and the beautiful Wan for himself. Wu Luan returns to court at the summons of the Empress to protect him from assassination attempts, and from here he attempts to learn the truth of his father's death and exact revenge on his uncle, while struggling to come to terms with his feelings for not only his step-mother but also his former betrothed, the devoted Qing.

In the meantime, the new Emperor is completely smitten with Wan and she uses this to her advantage, carving out a place for herself in his court and consolidating her own power. The Empress has a plan, and she is biding her time, waiting to make her move.

Because of the time it was made, the similar setting and themes, and the fact that Gong Li was originally slotted for the role of the Empress, the movie is often compared with Curse of the Golden Flower.

This film contains examples of:

  • Action Girl/Dark Action Girl: The Empress, depending on how you look at her goals.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: It's hard not to feel a little sorry for the Emperor when he realises he was just another pawn in the Empress's plan, and accepts death at her hands because "if it is your will, how can I refuse?" He dies in her lap.
  • All for Nothing: Wan ultimately ends up losing everything she actually loved in her grab for power. Then someone kills her.
  • Ambition Is Evil: As it's based on Hamlet, the Emperor murdered his brother to usurp his kingdom. Wan plans to return the favour so she can rule on her own as Emperor.
  • Arranged Marriage: Wu Luan and Qing were engaged. It was a Perfectly Arranged Marriage on her side, but he barely seemed to notice her.
  • The Bard on Board: The story is based on Hamlet.
  • Becoming the Mask: Wu Luan and Wan have a discussion about the power of masks in theater and whether or not wearing one brings about a greater performance. This as Wan is slowly becoming one with her Tough Leader Façade.
  • Black Widow: The Empress only married for power. Once she's in position, she murders her husband.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Qing's death, due to drinking poison.
  • Blood Is Squicker in Water: Blood flowing into water is something of a motif in the film. At one point the Emperor dropping a red grape into water evokes earlier examples of actual blood in water and signals that an execution is coming.
  • Break the Cutie: Qing, who starts the movie as a hopeful young bride-to-be and is slowly broken by the corruption around her. Then she's poisoned.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Wu Luan and Qing, who deconstruct this as the original play does.
  • The Chessmaster: The Empress.
  • Costume Porn: In particular, everything the Empress wears.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The elderly Pei Hong is executed by being beaten to death. All the more cruel and unusual for the fact that he invented the method.
  • Decadent Court: Pretty much everyone is trying to kill everyone else.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: The Emperor thinks that his wife is this, even telling her if she is a lump of ice, she will melt in his mouth.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Just as it seems the Empress has come out on top, an unseen assassin stabs and kills her.
  • Downer Ending: It's based on Hamlet, remember.
  • Driven to Suicide: The Emperor's death is ultimately rather pathetic as he realizes Wan loathes him. He deliberately poisons himself with the cup she prepared for him.
  • Due to the Dead: One of the Emperor's rare good moments involves ordering that Qing have a state funeral.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: Reversed, as Wu Luan confesses his love for Qing as the latter lies dying.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The imperial family, played for drama.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": To some extent. The Empress says that it has been so long since anyone called her by her real name that she had forgotten it.
  • Evil Uncle: The Emperor, what with that whole killing Wu Luan's father and taking the throne thing. Fitting as he's Claudius' Expy.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Surprisingly, The Emperor. After realizing Wan intended to poison him, he calmly drains the goblet she gave him and walks over to lay his head on her lap, at no point showing any trace of fear.
  • Fanservice/Male Gaze: Lingering shots of Zhang Ziyi in her birthday suit are littered throughout the film, including a Bathtub Scene.
  • Femme Fatale: The Empress becomes this more and more as the film goes on.
  • First Love: Wan for Wu Luan. He's clearly still hung up on her for most of the film.
  • Foil: Qing and the Empress, Pei Hong and Minister Yin, the Empress and Wu Luan.
  • Gambit Pileup: The banquet at the end of the film.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The general response to the Empress. There were those who had misgivings about her at the beginning, but by the end virtually everyone hates her. When she is killed by an assassin, her courtiers quietly abandon her to her fate.
  • The Good King: Wu Luan's father is implied to have been this.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The Empress has Qing brutally whipped simply because she asks to be exiled together with Wu Luan.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: The Empress pretends that the Emperor is winning her over while plotting to kill him.
  • Hot-Blooded: Yin Sun, the Laertes expy.
  • I Will Wait for You: Qing feels this way about Wu Luan, although she knows he can never be hers.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Pretty much everything the Empress does to Qing is driven by the fact that she is still in love with Wu Luan and doesn't want Qing to marry him.
  • The Ingenue: Qing, though she does show surprising insight into the Empress's personality.
  • Insistent Terminology: The first conversation of the movie between Wan and the Emperor is basically them deciding if they will settle into the role of husband and wife by playing with calling each other in-laws.
    • Pei Hong dies for referring to Wan as the Empress dowager, loudly and clearly.
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: Yin Sun is very protective of Qing, fully prepared to kill for her sake, and holds a grudge against Wu Luan because she loves him but he can't make her happy.
  • Lady in Red: The Empress wears either red or black for most of the film. Scenes emphasizing her sexual dominance over the Emperor show her in, or surrounded by, red fabric.
  • Laughing Mad: Pei Hong, after he finds he's the only man of integrity left.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Qing and the Empress. In their first scene together they're even wearing white and black respectively.
  • Lonely at the Top: Disregarding the fact that she's gone slightly loopy by this point, Emperor Wan is left desolate and alone by the end.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Wu Luan's father married the woman Wu Luan loved and hoped to marry. Can't get much more obstructive than that.
  • Manipulative Bastard: The Empress. She plays the Emperor's emotions effortlessly, and easily manipulates Minister Yin through his daughter.
  • Manly Tears: Wu Luan sheds some for his father after performing a play that accuses his uncle of murder.
  • May–December Romance: Wan was younger than the previous Emperor's own son when they married, and is undoubtedly decades younger than the new Emperor as well.
  • Meaningful Appearance: The color white is significant.
    • Wu Luan wears white throughout the film while most of the cast wears some combination of red and black, highlighting his loneliness, lack of allies at court, and purity. His mask on the other hand turns increasingly dark as the court becomes more corrupt.
    • The Empress wears white when widowed at the beginning of the film, and during her first on-screen meeting with Wu Luan. This is an emphasis of her lost childhood innocence and purity.
    • Qing is generally seen wearing more white than most other characters, but it isn't until the end that she's dressed all in white. Echoing Wu Luan's introduction, Qing performs at the banquet wearing the same pure white outfit and the mask that has become increasingly stained and black. By the end she is dying, and Wu Luan finally realizes he loves her.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Do you know why I love this colour..?"
  • Missing Mom: There is no mention of Wu Luan's birth mother. Or Qing and Yin Sun's mother.
  • Motifs: Masks. Wu Luan's signature item is a White Mask of Doom, the Emperor's troops and the palace guards all wear face-concealing battle masks, the actors in Wu Luan's play are masked, and Wan outright says that the greatest performance lies in turning one's own face into their mask.
  • Oblivious to Love: Wu Luan spends so much of the movie focused on the Empress that he can't tell Qing is honestly in love with him.
  • Oh, Crap!: During the banquet, when characters realize they, or someone they love, is going to be or has already been poisoned.
  • Perfect Poison: The black scorpion venom that killed the old Emperor.
    • Whatever poison the Empress gave to Qing and her husband.
  • Poison Is Corrosive: Wu Luan's hand starts to rot after he grabs a poisoned blade.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Empress wins the throne, but loses the man she loves in the process; first to another woman, and then literally when he dies.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The role of the Empress was originally intended for Gong Li, who was busy with Curse of the Golden Flower, or another actress of that age like Maggie Cheung. When Zhang Ziyi took the role, the character was aged down and the story was rewritten to allow for Wan to be younger than Wu Luan.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Empress gives one to Wu Luan. You can actually pinpoint the moment she gives up on him when he argues with her.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Wu Luan is made an ambassador to Khitan. Everybody knows he's really being sent to his death for pissing off his uncle. At the end of the film, Minister Yin is exiled to the far north by Empress Wan, after losing both his son and daughter.
  • Sarcastic Clapping: After Wu Luan's play, the Emperor slowly claps, signalling that the audience may also applaud. But what happens immediately following shows that he understood his nephew's challenge and is going to kill him.
  • Scenery Porn: Largely in black, white, red, and gold, though scenes at the outdoor theatre are overwhelmingly green.
  • Setting Update: Hamlet was set in medieval Denmark. This film is set in 10th-century China.
  • Show Within a Show: Wu Luan puts on a play for the Empress's coronation. This doesn't just get the Emperor, the tension in the room implicates that everyone knows what he's on about.
  • Sibling Triangle: The Emperor murdered his brother and married his brother's wife. Wan didn't want anything to do with this, but she submits. Or appears to.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The Emperor had been watching Wan for a long time before they marry. He's very familiar with her routines for removing her makeup and entering her bath.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Wu Luan, originally with Wan, and then with Qing. The crossing of their stars in both cases is highlighted by the fact that in the scenes where the couples are closest to realizing their mutual affection, Wu Luan and Wan/Qing are both wearing all white and moving together in a synchronized fashion. Wu Luan spars with Wan and performs a dance with Qing. And then everything falls apart.
  • Tears of Blood: Instead of the ghost of the prince's father, we have the father's armor weeping blood from the eye-holes.
  • The Unreveal: At the end of the film, an unseen assassin stabs Empress Wan in the back and kills her. The look of horror on her face as she turns and points at the camera implies she knows the identity of her murderer, but the audience never finds out.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Wu Luan and Wan. This tends to come out in their Insistent Terminology behind her relation to him as his stepmother in order to maintain the necessary distance between them.
  • Waif-Fu: A wuxia film with Zhang Ziyi is almost guaranteed to have this.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Empress admonishes Wu Luan more than once when he says or does something stupid that's going to get him killed.
  • White Mask of Doom: There's no denying that Wu Luan's mask is pretty scary. Later Qing puts it on, and is soon killed.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: After forcefully taking power at the end of the film, Wan's sanity has clearly started to fray after losing Wu Luan, to the point that she's almost comparable to Ophelia. At least until she's suddenly murdered.
  • You Killed My Father: Again, it's Hamlet.