Thursday, 24 September 2015
1911: Revolution (2011)
Jackie Chan is best known for light-hearted or outright comedic martial arts action films. For his 100th role however he tried something new: a serious historical epic, charting the 1911 revolution that led to the fall of the Qing dynasty. Props to him for taking on an ambitious change of pace.
If only I could also give him props for it being a good film.
Unfortunately, while it is clearly an earnest attempt to recount an important period in Chinese history, it's also a dull, meandering and didactic movie. For all that it is full of Serious People Having Serious Conversations, it never manages to convey the gravity or conviction of the Historic Words.
Chan plays Huang Xing, who was the revolutionaries' military leader and would ultimately become the first commander-in-chief of the army of the Republic of China, after the Qing monarchy was overthrown.
The film tracks the military efforts of Xing, and the political efforts of Sun Yat-Sen, as they attempt to win their revolutionary struggle. It also follows the deliberations of the Qing court, and the rise to a power-broking position of Qing "loyalist" General Yuan Shikai. In real life, Shikai went on to overthrow this first Chinese Republic in 1913 and attempt to make himself the first Emperor of a new dynasty, but the film doesn't cover those events.
Spreading itself over these four different groups stretches the film thin, and does not help its general lack of dynamism. Also not a help to the overall product is the one incongruous martial arts sequence that suddenly occurs about three-quarters of the way through. It's like they suddenly thought "can't have a Jackie Chan movie without at least one fist fight!" and wedged in the sixty second fracas without a single thought for how it tonally clashes with literally every other moment of the film.
Bit of a mess this, alas.