In 1911, after suffering many years of oppression at the hands of foreign invaders and the nation’s monarchy, the people of China band together in revolution. Over the course of a single blood-soaked year they brought down the Qing Dynasty, ending nearly three thousand years of Dynasty rule. Here we see the historical events unfold from the perspective of key players of both sides.
Everyone knows who Jackie Chan is, right?! At the very least everyone’s heard of him, he’s a bonafide legend of our time and at this point it doesn’t matter if he burns-out or fades away, his legacy is set. He has a body of work that will be remembered and referenced and copied and admired for a long, long time. Lord knows, those films aren’t perfect, the filmmakers of Hong Kong never took longevity into account when working on a project, they just wanted to entertain and make money, but somewhere along the way they started making films unlike anything you could find anywhere else, capturing the imagination of action fans the world over, and at the forefront of that entire thing was Mr Chan himself.
Unlike most stars, Jackie Chan has never really fallen out of favour with his fans since his true heyday (around twenty to thirty years ago), producing many a fun film (of, admittedly, varying quality… They can’t all be Drunken Master 2s, sometimes we have to put up with a Spy Next Door) both in the East as well as here in the West. I shan’t go into his body of work in too much detail as I have selected my Jackie Chan recommendations in a previous article (which you can find here), but suffice to say that as time has gone on, Chan has had to slow down somewhat, sensibly making the decision to back away from action slowly, which affords him the time to work on his dramatic chops.
And here we hit a landmark time in the life of a living legend, Jackie Chan’s hundredth film. Now, this proclamation is official and on the up and up, though what is being counted as a ‘Jackie Chan film’ I’m not entirely sure, though I’m inclined to believe that it’s the total films he’s appeared in, even if not the lead, though if that includes stuff he’s done just as a stuntman, who can tell? But I guess that’s just details, it’s still a mighty impressive feat and one to be applauded.
One would have liked this landmark occasion to be celebrated with Chan doing his last true ‘Jack Chan Movie’, crazy stunts/fighting and all, unfortunately that isn’t the case, in fact, 1911 Revolution isn’t really a Jackie Chan film at all, he’s just one element of an ensemble piece, but it still counts, and we can’t judge the film harshly for that reason alone, so let’s look at it for it’s own merits.
Two things are immediately evident from the opening scenes of 1911 Revolution, one is that we are going to be treated to an incredibly lavish looking film, in which little expense has been spared, the second is that anyone not already familiar with the Xinhai Revolution is going to have quite a rough time of it.
The chronology shifts and characters (of whose import you’re generally aware must have made a mark in the true history) are introduced with such speed that you’re never quite sure if you‘re going to be able to keep up, but eventually you get into the rhythm of alternating important speeches and passage of time montages, even if you’re not being whole entertained.
The problem is this; there are just too many characters and story threads to be contained within the slight running time, so huge chunks of text relaying various story points (read: history) permeate the scene changes and montages resulting in a sense that a four hour epic has been reduced to ninety minutes by committee, leaving in its wake a frustratingly fractured narrative that you can never really sink your teeth into.
Chan’s ongoing quest to improve his dramatic skills and be taken seriously as an actor seems to be working out pretty well for him, and while there are no scenes as effecting that THE heartbreaking scene in The Karate Kid, he is recognisably becoming much more nuanced in his naturalism and here is a stand-out in a cast that sometimes leans toward the broad. There is one small segment of Chan style action, which though guiltily fun must surely only be included for marketing purposes and is entirely at odds with the rest of the film.
Not so much a feature film then, but more of a ninety minute lesson in Chinese history, albeit a very beautiful one, which falls way short of the event that Jackie Chan’s hundredth film should have been.
C- grade – for storytelling
B- grade – for acting
B grade – for visuals
C grade – for direction
Overall grade – C
1911 Revolution is being released on region 1 and 2, 2 disk DVD and Blu-ray on March 19, 2012, from Cine Asia.