New on DVD: Legend of the Black Scorpion

Legend of the Black ScorpionOriginally released as The Banquet, The Legend of Black Scorpion exudes ability, boasting many of the same talents involved in the epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.This is one of two Chinese versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet produced in the same year. Director Feng Xiaogang’s vision of the story varies from the original but the heart of it remains the same. The Crown Prince's (Daniel Wu) uncle has murdered the Emperor, claiming the throne and the Empress (Ziyi Zhang) for himself. Some members of the court openly oppose the new Emperor (You Ge) while others bide their time. After receiving the news, the Prince returns from his sabbatical to take revenge but must also contend with the emotions of the women he left behind.

Wu’s Hamlet is much more subdued than most interpretations, requiring much of his turmoil to be expressed subtly through facial expressions and body language. Zhang gives a typically good performance, convincingly displaying a spectrum of emotions by the end of the film. Together, the actors perform a mesmerizing dance-fight sequence that is harmonious and graceful.

The film’s art direction is stunning with the set built to scale in a building large enough to house a jumbo jet; the same man (Timmy Yip) designed the backdrop for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And Xiaogang let no part of it go to waste when filming. Furthermore, famed action choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping (known for several Jet Li films, The Matrix trilogy, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) also lent his skills to the production.

If you’re a little rusty on your Hamlet or wonder how the scenes relate to the original text, feature commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan will fill in the gaps. In addition, he sheds some light on the identity of the mystery killer. Conversely, the supplementary interviews are somewhat repetitive and provide minimal enlightenment.

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