Review of Jackie Chan’s 100th movie: 1911 Revolution
The most stirring segment of 1911 Revolution is not when Jackie Chan’s eight-fingered general Huang Xing uses martial arts to beat down a bunch of colonized Manchu stooges. It’s when Sun Yat-sen played by Winston Chao, the Ang Lee-associated actor who has been cast as the character a couple of times before, delivers brunch-stopping speeches to European banker pigs that want to cut up the Middle Kingdom according to their own economic interests. Actually, they’re both pretty cool moments. The friendship and mostly parallel paths of the revolutionary army’s commander-in-chief and the Founding Father of Republican China is involving. And when their paths finally intersect, it’s a pretty cool moment.
The problem is that there are far too many interchangeable battle scenes that chop up and clog up the two hours of epicness. No matter how large-scale and sweepingly shot they are, the montages become numbing without proper build-up or variations. There are other flaws, too, including much-too-lengthy historical explanations (which are impossible to read even on a bigger TV) and more annotated explanations than pop-up videos on MTV.
Yet Jackie Chan’s 100th movie is not a total waste of two hours. While 1911 Revolution isn’t the most effective co-directing job of his career, Jackie Chan acts his ass off. After the first 10 or 20 minutes, you’ll no longer expect him to break character and start climbing walls and busting heads. The movie deserves your eyes for that alone. The ensemble is solid as a whole. Chao should be cast as president if they ever make a Chinese West Wing and Sun Chun is effectively off-the-rails as the unpredictable general who plays both sides. Joan Chen is powerfully understated as the Empress Dowager, although Li Bingbing’s role seems truncated. Yes, the cast delivers some admittedly schlocky moments but isn’t that what happens in fictionalized history? This is new Chinese cinema meant to stir up the increasingly comfortable Chinese, not a Hong Kong actioner for the fanboys (although the English dialog recalls the latter). You may not laugh, cry, or even learn much from this bloated piece of agitpop, but you will actually be moved by the actors at times and perhaps even be inspired by them. See for yourself on a big screen somewhere across America starting on Friday, October 7.