Global Shakespeare: Selected Films, Briefly Annotated

Keith Jones, Northwestern College

The following list is intended as a starting point for secondary school teachers and undergraduate professors who wish to explore films related to Shakespeare from around the world. Most of the following are readily available for purchase or through inter-library loan networks, but some rarer entries are included. Links to trailers or other visual elements have been included. The links are usually taken from official sources that are not likely to expire or to be removed; however, some YouTube videos, which are often less stable, are included.

The Bad Sleep Well [Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru]. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshirô Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Kyôko Kagawa, and Tatsuya Mihashi. 1960. DVD. Criterion, 2006.

Akira Kurosawa’s film about corruption in the business world resonates with the plot of Hamlet. Although the film does not follow Shakespeare’s very precisely, it does catch up many of Hamlet’s themes, primarily in its depiction of a son who attempts to avenge his father’s unjust death. A trailer is available at this URL: http://www.criterion.com/films/765-the-bad-sleep-well

A Dream in Hanoi: A True Story of Love, Stage Fright, and Noodle Soup. Dir. Tom Weidlinger. Perf. The Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam; Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland, Oregon; F. Murray Abraham. Videocassette. Bullfrog Films, 2002.

This documentary traces the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by two acting companies performing together—one Vietnamese, one American. The production was staged in Vietnam in 2000 by the Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam and the Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland, Oregon. The film explores the cultural differences that make themselves manifest when Shakespeare is at the center of the discussion. A trailer is available at this URL: http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/adih.html

Hamlet Goes Business [Hamlet Liikemaailmassa]. Dir. Aki Kaurismäki. Perf. Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Esko Salminen, Kati Outinen, Elina Salo, and Esko Nikkari. 1987. DVD. Villealfa Film, 1998.

Kaurismäki’s darkly-comedic version of Hamlet is more difficult to track down, but it provides an interesting take on the play. Instead of vying for the monarchy of Denmark, the characters attempt to rise to the top of the family business, which the Claudius analogue is trying to take in the direction of rubber duck production. The film is filled with Finnish humor. Several clips are available at this URL: http://bardfilm.blogspot.com/2010/10/hamlet-liikemaailmassa.html

Huapango. Dir. Ivan Lipkies. Perf. Alejandro Tommasi, Lisset, Manuel Landeta, Goretti Lipkies, Alfredo Castillo, Rafael Romero, Alfredo Sevilla, María Elena Velasco, and Alicia Sandoval. 2004. DVD. Quality Films, n.d.

This film sets Othello in small-town Mexico, as the characters prepare for the National Festival of Huapango, celebrating traditional folk dance. During the festival the Iago analogue, jealous at being slighted by the Desdemona analogue, plots his revenge. One of the most interesting features of this film is its treatment of the Othello analogue, who is injured in a rodeo early in the film and spends the rest of the film recovering in bed. A trailer is available at this URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmhxR699Kc0

The Legend of the Black Scorpion. [a.k.a. The Banquet (Ye Yan)]. Dir. Feng Xiaogang. Perf. Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, Zhou Xun, Ge You, Ma Jingwu. 2006. DVD. Dragon Dynasty, 2008.

Hamlet is retold in the style of Wuxia, a particular genre of Kung Fu action film. The film is set in China in A.D. 907, during the period of political instability known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. The first half of the film follows the plot of Hamlet fairly consistently, with a few interesting variations. The Gertrude analogue was the Hamlet analogue’s sweetheart, rather than his mother, before becoming his stepmother by marrying his father, the Emperor, and eventually his uncle. The ending of the film alters the Hamlet narrative considerably—and with great interest. A brief trailer is available at this URL: http://www.dragondynasty.com/films/show/102

Maqbool. Dir. Vishal Bharadwaj. Perf. Irfan Khan and Tabu. 2003. DVD. Music Today, 2004.

This film sets Macbeth in a dark and violent criminal setting. The Macbeth analogue is part of an organized crime racket in India. The film follows the plot of Macbeth, but with interesting variations. The Lady Macbeth analogue, for example, is Duncan’s reluctant lover rather than the Macbeth analogue’s wife. A trailer (with German subtitles) is available at this URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scNDE4i-JH0

Omkara. Dir. Vishal Bharadwaj. Perf. Ajay Devgan and Saif Ali Khan. 2006. DVD. Eros Entertainment, 2007.

The director of Maqbool returned to Shakespeare with this retelling of Othello. The setting is, generally, the countryside of India, and the plot is centered on the relationships between politicians and criminals in that area. Questions about race are generally transplanted into questions about caste in this film. A trailer is available at this URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hp697cTAIMU

Prince of the Himalayas [Ban dao yin xiang; a.k.a. Ximalaya wangzi]. Dir. Sherwood Hu. Perf. Purba Rgyal, Dobrgyal, Zomskyid, Sonamdolgar, Lobden, and Lopsang. Hus Entertainment, Shanghai Film Studios. 20 October 2006.

Although this film has not been released on DVD in most markets, it has periodically been screened in the United States, and a DVD release may be forthcoming. The film transplants the plot of Hamlet to ancient Tibet, making significant and interesting alterations to it as it does so. The film concentrates particularly on the question of the ghost’s trustworthiness, the relationship between the Hamlet analogue and the Ophelia analogue, and the back story between the analogues of Claudius and Gertrude. A trailer is available at this URL: http://princeofthehimalayas.com/Trailer.html and a fairly-complete plot summary (spoilers included) is available at this URL: http://bardfilm.blogspot.com/2011/04/preliminary-impressions-of-prince-of.html

Ran. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Tatsuya Nakadai and Akira Terao. 1985. DVD. Criterion, 1985.

One of Kurosawa’s last films, Ran sets the story of King Lear in feudal Japan. The film is visually stunning, and its concentration on the raw desire for power at all costs provides a significant reading of King Lear. A trailer is available at this URL: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi359728921/

Shakespeare Wallah. Dir. James Ivory. Perf. Shashi Kapoor and Felicity Kendal. 1965. DVD. Merchant Ivory, 2004.

This film chronicles the fortunes of an English troop of actors in India after India had achieved its independence. The film opens issues of post-colonialism and the uses to which Shakespeare has been put. A trailer is available at this URL: http://www.criterion.com/films/1513-shakespeare-wallah

A Spray of Plum Blossoms. Dir. Wangcang Bu. Perf. Ruan Lingyu, Jin Yan, Gao Zhanfei, Lin Chuchu, and Wang Cilong. 1931. DVD. Epoch Entertainment, 2007.

This silent film from China takes The Two Gentlemen of Verona and places it in a military setting. A brief clip from the film is available at this URL: http://bardfilm.blogspot.com/2010/08/spray-of-plum-blossoms-early-silent.html

Throne of Blood [Kumonosu jô (The Castle of the Spider’s Web)]. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Isuzu Yamada. 1957. DVD. Criterion, 2003.

Of the three films by Kurosawa that are related to Shakespeare, Throne of Blood is probably the best known. Macbeth’s plot is retold in a feudal Japanese setting. The film has some of the most remarkable visual compositions in all of Kurosawa, and its retelling of Macbeth, though generally consistent with Shakespeare’s plot, differs in significant respects. A trailer is available at this URL: http://www.criterion.com/films/735-throne-of-blood

A Time to Love [Qing ren jie]. Dir. Jianqi Huo. Perf. Wei Zhao and Yi Lu. 2005. DVD. N.p., 2009.

The film certainly starts with the generic plot of Romeo and Juliet. More interesting is the way in which these Chinese characters try to find an analogy for their own story in film and stage versions of Romeo and Juliet itself. A trailer (in Chinese) is available at this URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0KLd0ffJMI

Suggested Reading

The Bad Sleep Well [Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru]. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshirô Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Kyôko Kagawa, and Tatsuya Mihashi. 1960. DVD. Criterion, 2006.

A Dream in Hanoi: A True Story of Love, Stage Fright, and Noodle Soup. Dir. Tom Weidlinger. Perf. The Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam; Artists Repertory Theatre of Portland, Oregon; F. Murray Abraham. Videocassette. Bullfrog Films, 2002.

Hamlet Goes Business [Hamlet Liikemaailmassa]. Dir. Aki Kaurismˆ§ki. Perf. Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Esko Salminen, Kati Outinen, Elina Salo, and Esko Nikkari. 1987. DVD. Villealfa Film, 1998.

Huapango. Dir. Ivan Lipkies. Perf. Alejandro Tommasi, Lisset, Manuel Landeta, Goretti Lipkies, Alfredo Castillo, Rafael Romero, Alfredo Sevilla, Marˆ‚a Elena Velasco, and Alicia Sandoval. 2004. DVD. Quality Films, n.d.

The Legend of the Black Scorpion. [a.k.a. The Banquet (Ye Yan)]. Dir. Feng Xiaogang. Perf. Zhang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, Zhou Xun, Ge You, Ma Jingwu. 2006. DVD. Dragon Dynasty, 2008.

Maqbool. Dir. Vishal Bharadwaj. Perf. Irfan Khan and Tabu. 2003. DVD. Music Today, 2004.

Omkara. Dir. Vishal Bharadwaj. Perf. Ajay Devgan and Saif Ali Khan. 2006. DVD. Eros Entertainment, 2007.

Prince of the Himalayas [Ban dao yin xiang; a.k.a. Ximalaya wangzi]. Dir. Sherwood Hu. Perf. Purba Rgyal, Dobrgyal, Zomskyid, Sonamdolgar, Lobden, and Lopsang. Hus Entertainment, Shanghai Film Studios. 20 October 2006.

Ran. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Tatsuya Nakadai and Akira Terao. 1985. DVD. Criterion, 1985.

Shakespeare Wallah. Dir. James Ivory. Perf. Shashi Kapoor and Felicity Kendal. 1965. DVD. Merchant Ivory, 2004.

A Spray of Plum Blossoms. Dir. Wangcang Bu. Perf. Ruan Lingyu, Jin Yan, Gao Zhanfei, Lin Chuchu, and Wang Cilong. 1931. DVD. Epoch Entertainment, 2007.

Throne of Blood [Kumonosu jô (The Castle of the Spider’Äôs Web)]. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Isuzu Yamada. 1957. DVD. Criterion, 2003.

A Time to Love [Qing ren jie]. Dir. Jianqi Huo. Perf. Wei Zhao and Yi Lu. 2005. DVD. N.p., 2009.