By Gary Murray
Starring Jackie Chan, Winston Chao and Li Bingbing
Written by Wang Xingdong and Chen Baoguang
Directed by Jackie Chan
Running time 2 hrs
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Cable
Epic films have graced the silver screen since the very beginnings of cinema. From Birth of a Nation to Gone With the Wind to Che, there have been those in Hollywood who try and put a grand spectacle in front of an audience. Some work and some don’t. The latest attempt is the Chinese film 1911, directed by action star Jackie Chan.
The film concerns the events at the beginning of the last century. China is changing from a Dynasty rule to becoming aware of Western influence. The people want a change and the ruling monarchs want to keep the status quo. There is an industrial revolution going on and railroads to be build. The Europeans want their part of the pie, seeing capitalism exploitation as a driving force.
Jackie Chan plays Huang Xing, a fighter who wants a better existence for the people of his land. He and his fellow patriots fight for democracy and freedom, training near the ocean. There are battle scenes where these brave young men fight for the freedom of self-determination.
Wilson Chao is Sun Yat-sen, a political man who wants a true republic for the people. As the rebels fight for the land, Sun fights the important political fight with the money men, convincing that they must be on the right side of history. He sees the promise that China as a democracy possesses.
While this is going on, there is much political back-stabbing and jockeying for position within the framework of the new government. Sun insists that he will start the process but wants no part in being a leader. Troops loyal to the Emperor will not go easily into that good night. This drives 1911 to a bloody conclusion.
Much of the events of this film were covered in the fine motion picture The Last Emperor. This film could be seen as a companion piece to that work, just not as effective. 1911 is another early Oscar push, trying to get notice before the big guns of the Christmas movie season descends.
There are many problems with 1911. The movie is hard to watch. Every new chapter has titles that explain the significance of the event and the historical context, giving the film the feeling of an overdrawn history lesson. It is all in subtitles and the dialogue whips by so fast that the meaning of the sentences becomes lost in the fray.
On the flip side, the cinematography is on par with the best that Hollywood has to offer. There are windswept vistas that capture the beauty of the country with billowing tapestries of light to fill the frame. Even images such as battle scenes come across as majestic and striking. The visual aspects of the production cannot be over-stated.
Even though Jackie Chan is billed as the star, the major actor of 1911 is Winston Chao as Sun Yat-sen, the first true president of the Republic of China. As our reluctant leader, he is the intellectual in a world where brute force is the norm. It is never a winning proposition for someone like him.
With top billing, Jackie Chan will get both the accolades and blame for 1911. His direction at times is wonderful and at times lost in the fray. He takes on a major double duty as being director and star. One has to win the battle and Jackie Chan, the director, loses the battle. There is very little of the action hero Jackie Chan in 1911, with only one short fight scene. Those expecting a traditional film from the icon will be sorely disappointed by the final product of the movie.
1911 is one of those films that film-snobs are supposed to like but seldom want to watch. More interesting than entertaining, the film has limited appeal.