Sunday, May 5, 2013

Act IV, Scene 4 - The Banquet

The Banquet (sold in America as Legend of the Black Scorpion) must be the only version of Hamlet that includes snow ninjas. While the story is often very different from the play's, the Prince's exile definitely evokes Hamlet's own, as he is escorted on horseback through a snowy plain. As in the play, he spies an army from afar, and it is a mirror of himself on that other road. No Fortinbras, but a fake Prince who will act as tribute to the country standing in for England while he is assassinated by his own escort, here, now. In other words, what if Claudius, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern were far more treacherous than they appeared? The Prince is rescued by the timely intervention of, yes, snow ninjas burrowing from beneath and killing the murderous escort with their crossbows. It is a wuxia film, after all.

The rescue party is led by the Laertes figure working on the orders of the Queen who, more villainous in this story than in the play, is holding his sister hostage. He is also ordered to then tell the King that the entire party was silenced, escort and all. This "Laertes" has no real love for "Hamlet" and in a scene that takes the place of the IV.4 soliloquy, he dares tell the Prince his course for revenge will cost many lives before it is over, and that he puts "Ophelia", "Polonius", everyone in danger so long as political machinations continue to center upon him. Better everyone believe he is dead. For the Prince, this acts as a wake-up call, that his readiness to die should not be his readiness that the people he loves die. When he returns, in spite of Laertes' admonitions, it will be to end it once and for all, but it will be too late for many of the characters.

What I find very interesting about these important changes made to the story is that they don't in any way diminish the drama, but rather give viable alternatives to the events and motivations found in the play. When one isn't tied down to the text (and a Chinese version - or any translation - wouldn't be), one can better experiment with the Bard's structure. It may even be possible to do it within the confines of the text as written. Imagine a Laertes who colludes with Hamlet during his exile. A Laertes that returns to Denmark to cause trouble and prepare the way for Hamlet, possibly depose Claudius in his name. One who believes Claudius responsible for Polonius' death (has Hamlet lied to him?). But it all goes wrong when Claudius denies the charges, when Ophelia walks in completely mad, and when finally, she commits suicide. Hamlet returns to find Ophelia dead and Laertes a surprise enemy. It could give the Hamlet/Laertes relationship an additional layer of complexity.

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