1911 (2011)

Director:  Jackie Chan & Zhang Li
Cast:  Jackie Chan, Winston Chao, Li Bingbing, Joan Chen
Plot:  A historical drama based on the founding of the Republic of China when nationalist forces led by Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing Dynasty.

Genre:  Drama / History
Awards:  -
Runtime:  121min
Rating:  PG13 for war violence.

In terms of marketing a film to the East and West, you don’t get any bigger a star than Jackie Chan.  Purported to be his “100th film”, 1911 sees Chan working on both sides of the camera.  

Co-directed by Chan and Zhang Li, the latter a quite accomplished cinematographer of The Banquet (2006) and the two-parter Red Cliff (2008, 2009), the film is being sold as a historical drama about a turbulent period in time almost a century ago when revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen led his forces to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, founding the Republic of China.

1911 starts out credibly but ends on a pretentious note, as if trying to impress didactically, when what audiences want is an honest, emotional portrayal of the film’s lead character.  Speaking of which, I suspect many would find it difficult to point out who the focus is here.  

This is a story of Sun (played by Winston Chao), but there is no escaping the fact that for most of us, it is Chan whom we want to see.  And yes, we do see him, but not enough to gratify us.  Herein lies the discrepancy: if we see him enough, 1911 would lose its historical focus.  You see, it is a failed battle from the start.

Chan plays Huang Xing, Sun’s right-hand man, and whom we see lead courageous young men to battle against the Chinese military forces.  As much as 1911 is a history lesson in cinematic disguise, it is also a war movie.  The war scenes, while shot with a beautiful desaturated grey hue, are edited haphazardly.  We see inexplicable moments of slow-motion and jerky fast-forwards that are more distracting than useful.  In the more dramatic scenes, the pacing is slightly uneven. 

Perhaps the biggest flaw of the film is the integration of an awkward collection of scenes that are shot with English dialogue that sees Sun speaking to a group of Western bankers so just to please English-speaking audiences in the US of A.

1911 also tries too hard to please action fans of Chan’s legendary stuntwork by showing a short scene of him sliding down a hot, metal column to fight off a couple of bad guys.  It is as if Chan feels stifled by a historical narrative that disfavors kung-fu, and decides to have a moment of emo-physical release.  

In a nutshell, 1911 does leave us with a couple of finer points about Chinese history, but the experience is diluted in some way or another, but not limited to, the lack of character focus, and its seemingly imposing propagandist final sequence.


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