Ye Yan

Going into Ye Yan expecting a prettified action flick is like walking into a thirty course banquet hoping for some pizza and beer. And yes, there is also pizza and beer. Writers Gangjian Qiu and Heyu Sheng take Hamlet, cut out the bit parts, flesh out the principals and throw in some additional intrigue. Who knew that replacing the verse in Shakespeare with choreographed stunts and primary colors could work so well.

Empress Wan (Ziyi Zhang) is an awe-inspiring mixture of Gertrude and Lady Macbeth, without the weepy, ranting or guilty bits. She also happens to be Hamlet’s (Prince Wu Lian) ex-lover, step-mother, and aunt. “Sometimes soft and charming, sometimes frightening”, Empress Wan leaves you guessing till the very end.

The plot is just the icing. The real cake is the cinematography and the choreography. God as they say is in the detail – snow splashed with warm blood doesn’t just look pretty, it melts. But thanks to Xiaogang Feng you don’t end up feeling like a goose in the pre-pâté stage. The Empress’ bathroom (I cringe to call it that – English is so utilitarian about rooms) is bathed in golden light, but we see it through a dark doorway. All of this perfection comes at a price though – one is torn between watching the actors, admiring the stunts, reading the subtitles, and catching a fleeting glimpse of this or that beautiful, fascinating thing at the periphery. All in all, move over Zhang Yimou. There’s a new standard in town.


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