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NYAFF 2007: “The Banquet.”

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"My heart lives for your heart, but you do not see me."
Somehow, the historical martial arts epic has become the Chinese answer to the Merchant Ivory film, steeped in prestige, crafted for international consumption, and skipping over complicated contemporary issues to revel in an earlier time period when people wore prettier, more complicated clothing. "The Banquet," directed by Feng Xiaogang, is a Gertrude-centric "Hamlet" transposed to tumultuous 10th century China and cut through with generous dollops of balletic, wired-assisted fight scenes. It’s a categorically sumptuous film — from cavernous palace halls to the elegant unfurling of blood in forest stream, there’s no chance at visual extravagance passed up. It’s not enough to make up for the film’s almost complete lack of vitality, but it sure is nice to look at.

"The Banquet" has more than a little in common with Zhang Yimou‘s "Curse of the Golden Flower" — both are focused on women furiously manuevering for their own survival in the viperous, gilded courts of ancient China, and both were supposed to star Gong Li, who passed on "The Banquet" due to scheduling conflicts. In her place is Zhang Ziyi, who’s seems more like a kitten playing at being a big cat as Empress Wan, once a court maiden in love with Prince Wu Luan (Daniel Wu), but chosen as a bride to the emperor instead, causing the unhappy Wu Luan to leave the court to immerse himself in theater and music. At the film’s open, the former emperor has been murdered with the "Hamlet" poison of choice (ear!), and Wan has taken up with his murderer, the new emperor (Ge You), in order to protect herself and Wu Luan. Various machinations and assassination attempts follow as the prince arrives at court, culminating in a midnight banquet at which everyone’s agendas are bloodily revealed.

The famous choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (the man behind "The Matrix" films as well as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and dozens of others) put together the action sequences, which director Feng shoots in slow motion so luxuriant it’s hard not to giggle. Poetic? Sure. Silly? Totally. When a genre is shoulder to shoulder with self-parody, it might be time to give it a rest. Nevertheless, Zhang and Wu have excellent thwarted chemistry, even expressed via a loving swordfight. Zhou Xun (of "Suzhou River") gets the best (if also, in retrospect, most foolish) death scene in a film heavy with them as the Ophelia character.

"The Banquet" will screen at the IFC Center June 22 at 8:15pm and June 27 at 8:45pm. It has no US distribution.

+ "The Banquet" (
+ "The Banquet" (IMDb)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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