‘1911’ marks a low point for Jackie Chan
Flouting Chairman Mao’s remark that “Revolution is not taking people out to dinner,” gate-crashing and dinner parties take up more screen time than grisly battles and nation-building in “1911” (Other name: DAI THANH PHU BAI).
Jackie Chan stars and codirects this historical epic with Zhang Li to commemorate the centennial of the Xinhai Revolution. Which end two centuries of the monarchal system in China. However, Jackie Chan has not inject any of his playful charm or physical virtuosity. That into Wang Xingdong’s and Chen Baoguang’s insipid, poorly structure screenplay.
A mainland Chinese propaganda vehicle through and through. The film postulates history in such a scrappy, inaccessible manner that either as entertainment or education, it’s a lost cause.
“1911” chronicles political careers of China’s first president, Sun Yat Sen (Winston Chao). And military commander Huang Xing (Chan) as parallel trajectories that embody the two-prong offensives of the revolution. Sun is diplomat and statesman spearheading overseas fundraising efforts. And navigating a complex web of Western imperialist interests, while Huang gets his hands dirty in bloody warfare.
Smaller-scale scenes — such as when Empress Dowager Longyu (Joan Chen) and her 7-year-old emperor son burst into tears, causing the entire royal court to drop respectfully to its knees — are fascinating, but they’re rare.
Two battles are represent as the turning points in their struggle:
Huang Xing (Chan), a leader of the insurgent revolution, brings his experience with Japanese modern warfare into battle against the dynasty’s army, while his more political compatriot Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao) — later the republic’s first provisional president — heads overseas to drum up funds.
Chao infuses “1911” with a dignifi presence. However, this cannot alleviate the stodgy dialogue Jackie Chan’s given, which sounds like reams of political treatises.
Historical accounts of the protagonists’ real lives rock with adventure and romance. The screenplay fails to take advantage of their potential for entertainment.
“1911” looks every bit the gorgeous, big-budget war drama, but its meticulous depiction of the Xinhai Revolution, and the names and ranks of the many personalities involved, may be slow going for anyone not well-versed in this chapter of Chinese history.
Ambitious Gen. Yuan Shikai (Chun Sun) emerges as most formidable character as the film devotes more time. That to reveal how he plays the court and Republican government against each other. His devious intimidation of Empress Dowager Longyu (Joan Chen hamming up a prima donna act) provides rare moments of dramatic tension.