Made from a purely propagandistic standpoint, "Beginning of The Great Revival" is a state sanctioned effort to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of the adoption of that country's Chinese Communist Party. As such, it is a celebratory and one-sided event that shies away from any unnecessary unpleasantness or critique to present the glories of enlightenment. On subject matter and perspective alone, therefore, the film can be viewed in a rather negative light. And justifiably so. But being pragmatic, a film can be distasteful and/or untruthful but still merit consideration from a historical significance viewpoint. Take, for example, Griffith's "Birth of a Nation." Morally and thematically reprehensible, it still helped define the language of film and is absolutely a masterpiece--however wrongheaded and dangerous (and it was directly responsible for many deaths). Obviously, I'm not saying that "Beginning of the Great Revival" holds the same significance, just that I was willing to have an open mind and judge the film in different categories.
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.