Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: 1911

Plodding account of how a rebel uprising led by Sun Yat-Sen helped overthrow the Qing dynasty in China.

Oct 7, 2011

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1281048-1911_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The latest in a stream of propaganda-oriented films celebrating the centennial of turning points in Chinese politics, 1911 is lavishly mounted but dramatically disappointing. Loud, chaotic battle scenes can't make up for an episodic storyline that portrays historical characters as stick figures. The film fared poorly in Asian markets and will do even worse here.

Screenwriters Wang Xingdong and Chen Baoguang have broken the narrative into three main storylines. One follows Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao) as he travels to San Francisco and London to secure backing for the Tongmenghui, or Revolutionary Alliance. A second focuses on Huang Xing (Jackie Chan), a rebel officer who participates in two of the key battles in the uprising. A third shows the Imperial Court of the Qing Dynasty, where Empress Dowager Lingyu (Joan Chen) and her ministers struggle to hold onto power.

The Sun Yat-Sen storyline has some of the movie's worst acting, as poorly cast Caucasians mince and sneer before the Chinese politician, their dialogue badly post-dubbed. Scenes in the court of the Empress, on the other hand, crackle with fear and animosity, Qing officials providing easy targets for contemporary critics.

The Huang Xing scenes include well-mounted battle sequences, as well as prolonged montages of heroic but doomed rebels writing final letters to families, cavorting on beaches, or being tortured by enemies. But the material is hard to follow and often doesn't ring true. The filmmakers try to wring out too much emotion from clichéd moments, and can't resist punctuating scenes with banal touches, like the tear-streaked face of a child in a crowd of onlookers.

Huang is a rare dramatic role for Jackie Chan (he does interject one brief martial-arts scene late in the movie), and while he's credible enough, his character is almost featureless. Ditto for Li Bingbing, who plays a spy posing as Huang's wife. Whether through design or omission, their relationship is a blank. The film's best acting comes from Sun Chun, who delivers a nuanced portrayal of General Yuan Shikai, a pivotal figure in the success of the uprising. The film's closing scenes, in which Yuan Shikai and Sun Yat-Sen battle behind the scenes to determine who will lead the new China, build up a surprising amount of momentum.

Overall, 1911 feels more like a missed opportunity than a compelling movie. The events of the period certainly deserve film treatment, as Bernardo Bertolucci proved with The Last Emperor. But for Western viewers, 1911 will be significant primarily for reducing Jackie Chan, one of the world's great screen presences, to near-anonymity.



Film Review: 1911

Plodding account of how a rebel uprising led by Sun Yat-Sen helped overthrow the Qing dynasty in China.

Oct 7, 2011

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1281048-1911_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The latest in a stream of propaganda-oriented films celebrating the centennial of turning points in Chinese politics, 1911 is lavishly mounted but dramatically disappointing. Loud, chaotic battle scenes can't make up for an episodic storyline that portrays historical characters as stick figures. The film fared poorly in Asian markets and will do even worse here.

Screenwriters Wang Xingdong and Chen Baoguang have broken the narrative into three main storylines. One follows Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao) as he travels to San Francisco and London to secure backing for the Tongmenghui, or Revolutionary Alliance. A second focuses on Huang Xing (Jackie Chan), a rebel officer who participates in two of the key battles in the uprising. A third shows the Imperial Court of the Qing Dynasty, where Empress Dowager Lingyu (Joan Chen) and her ministers struggle to hold onto power.

The Sun Yat-Sen storyline has some of the movie's worst acting, as poorly cast Caucasians mince and sneer before the Chinese politician, their dialogue badly post-dubbed. Scenes in the court of the Empress, on the other hand, crackle with fear and animosity, Qing officials providing easy targets for contemporary critics.

The Huang Xing scenes include well-mounted battle sequences, as well as prolonged montages of heroic but doomed rebels writing final letters to families, cavorting on beaches, or being tortured by enemies. But the material is hard to follow and often doesn't ring true. The filmmakers try to wring out too much emotion from clichéd moments, and can't resist punctuating scenes with banal touches, like the tear-streaked face of a child in a crowd of onlookers.

Huang is a rare dramatic role for Jackie Chan (he does interject one brief martial-arts scene late in the movie), and while he's credible enough, his character is almost featureless. Ditto for Li Bingbing, who plays a spy posing as Huang's wife. Whether through design or omission, their relationship is a blank. The film's best acting comes from Sun Chun, who delivers a nuanced portrayal of General Yuan Shikai, a pivotal figure in the success of the uprising. The film's closing scenes, in which Yuan Shikai and Sun Yat-Sen battle behind the scenes to determine who will lead the new China, build up a surprising amount of momentum.

Overall, 1911 feels more like a missed opportunity than a compelling movie. The events of the period certainly deserve film treatment, as Bernardo Bertolucci proved with The Last Emperor. But for Western viewers, 1911 will be significant primarily for reducing Jackie Chan, one of the world's great screen presences, to near-anonymity.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

The Congress
Film Review: The Congress

Part live-action, part cornea-searing animation, this cinematic overload is ambitious but ultimately fatigues as it plays with the intriguing notion of a fading Hollywood star selling rights so her cyberspace avatar can rise to superstardom and stay forever young in virtual reality. Flashy animation and cynical stabs at celebrity culture and movie-studio finagling keep things lively for a while. More »

The Last of Robin Hood
Film Review: The Last of Robin Hood

Serviceable vehicle for a salacious story. More »

Last Weekend
Film Review: Last Weekend

A sort of modern Chekhovian study of family tensions over a country weekend, this indie drama is very pretty to look at and at times disarming, but needed more punch. More »

The Notebook
Film Review: The Notebook

An aloof adaptation of Agota Kristof's best-seller that's technically impressive but precludes audience identification. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Film Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Neither significantly better nor worse than its predecessor, the belated Sin City sequel is more of a repeat, rather than a continuation, of the original. More »

If I Stay
Film Review: If I Stay

Delivers as promised. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here