Beginning of the Great Revival
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Beginning of the Great Revival, known as The Founding of a Party in China and a companion piece to 2009's blockbuster The Founding of a Republic, details the historic events surrounding what is referred to as the Chinese Revolution, the period from 1911 to 1921, when Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing Dynasty and planted the roots of what has become today's Chinese Communist government. The story shows the beginnings of the country's most influential first-generation leaders, including Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek and Zhou Enlai. Just as The Founding of a Republic did, the film, co-directed by Jianxin Huang and Sanping Han, features a cast of China's biggest box office names such as Liu Ye, Chang Chen, Chen Kun, Andy Lau, Daniel Wu and John Woo.
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History (2 Stars): Granted, I knew that the film would present events to promote a certain agenda. I had still hoped, however, to get a perspective on events leading up to the formation of the CCP. Unless you have a preexisting encyclopedic knowledge of major events between 1911 and 1921, the film's structure almost defies you to take anything in. There are hundreds of characters, dozens of locations, tons of expository writing, and no scene in the first hour lasts longer than ninety seconds. Even if everything were one hundred percent valid, this is a Cliff's Notes version that has years flying by before you can put anything into context. Boasting over "150 Top Actors" (including international personalities like Chun Yun-Fat, Andy Lau, and John Woo), dozens of people pop up for a second or two--but each one has their character name displayed like you should be keeping track. I kept scanning back to catch things at the beginning but, ultimately, found it futile.
Filmmaking (4 Stars): There is no denying the appeal of the massive cast which is a veritable who's who of Chinese actors. Performances are good and convincing considering the narrative limitations. Sequences are impressively staged with handsome sets, gorgeous costumes, epic music, awesome location shooting, and massively successful crowd scenes. There is a lot of technical expertise that went into the production, and the film looks fantastic. The screenplay, however, (as I mentioned above) tries to convey too much information in too short a time.
Entertainment (1 Star): With its short-attention-span structure, there is little attempt to draw the viewer into any of the actions or enable them to identify with any of the characters. Hence, the presentation became like work. No one loves a sweeping Chinese epic as much as I do, but I think anyone would have a hard time connecting to "Beginning of the Great Revival" with emotion or passion. It's too dry, too disconnected.
Propaganda (1 Star): As the film was made as propaganda, this is really where you have to ask the question "did it succeed at fulfilling its intention?" Of course, certain sequences promise lush music, noble speechifying, and grand unification--but without actual audience involvement, it doesn't amount to much. If the movie wanted to promote the greatness of the CCP, it needed to connect on an emotional level and be a stirring and evocative document of its time. Again, I'll use the Cliff's Notes metaphor. The movie tells you what happens (however ineffectively) but never really makes you care. More dull than inspiring or enlightening, I'd be curious to know how Chinese movie audiences reacted to this epic misfire. (I hear only "official" reviews were allowed, some ticket sales were mandated, and other movies were pulled from theaters to ensure big box office results, but I don't know how much is true). KGHarris, 1/12.
With a host of great Chinese stars, I imagined this film would be a great epic production with beautiful scenes and a driving plot. Sorry to say it, but this film truly missed the mark. Though the visuals were great, the film played like a string of commercials, very choppy and somewhat disconnected. Rather than focusing on main themes, the plot presents the years leading up to the Chinese Revolution as a series of small and large events with both major leaders and secondary figures getting their due notice. The result is a movie filled with sound bites of history, a story line of vignetts. The great actors in the film are forced to develop their characters with only a few lines and looks, and the viewer is unable to develop any empathy or connection with them or the events that are unfolding around them. The film never really seems to have a climax or main turning point. Though the May Fourth Movement gets a lot of screen time, it is not clear that the student revolt was the catalyst forming the communist party. When the party is formed, the scene is a half-lit room with tears and song and pales in dynamics when surrounded by assasinations, battles, and student revolts. This film simply lacks good story-telling.
The most memorable parts of the movie involve the characters Ku Hung-ming, Mao Tse-tung, and Pu Yi. Ku Hung-ming probably gets the best line in the film. He is a scholar with clear "old school" beliefs, and he dresses and acts the part. At a school assembly, he ascends the staqe to receive his academic assignment dressed in traditional Chinese apparel with a pigtail down his back. The students largely dressed in more western style clothing all find a laugh at his appearance. Ku addresses their reaction with the line "I wear my pigtail at the back of my head, those who laugh at me wear it in their hearts." A skilled, insightful, and polite retort. The scene with Mao is toward the end of the movie when he is addressing a worker's meeting. Mao deconstructs the Chinese symbol for "worker" as a combination of "man" and "heaven." He declares to the workers their value in the future. It is a moving moment giving the common man diginity and prominence. Pu Yi, the child emporer, makes an appearance in the film with clear borrowings from Bernado Bertolucci's The Last Emperor - Director's Cut, a movie I warmly recommend. However, it is a far less flattering portrayal than given by Bertolucci and would almost be comedic if not for a stong element of the pathetic.
Given the price of the film, I was expecting a few extras. There were none. Certainly some extra material with historical background wouldn't have hurt. I can't really recommend the film. However, if you are fond of Chinese history and with little else to do on a Saturday night, you could fill your time watching this.
film, it is no less a great film. I enjoy buying Asian films from Amazon because I am
able to buy what I want. This is an all star cast who shined. I advise anyone who
loves Woo as much as I do, buy it.