1911: Revolution is a startlingly bad movie that manages to turn an historic event into an incomprehensible jumble of irrelevant title cards, bombastic speeches, and tiring battles. Culminating with a sequence that literally plays like an ad for Chinese nationalism, the propagandistic nature would be offensive if it wasn’t so boring. Jackie Chan stars and co-directs (billed as ‘General Director’) with Zhang Li in what is advertised as his 100th film but I advise fans to keep their distance. 1911 is so unlike any of his 99 films prior that one wonders what the Chinese government had on Chan to get him to take part in this epic mess.
It tells the story of the Wuchang Uprising of 1911 which ultimately led to the Xinhai Revolution that overthrew 2,000 years of feudalism. It was several years later that the Communists took hold, but this was the moment where China turned on its monarchy and moved towards a republic. Certainly big, epic stuff, and with strong Chinese government funding the picture doesn’t skimp on scale with some impressive vistas featuring hundreds of extras.
1911 meanders through its interminable two-hour running time with a collection of scenes that feel more like liner notes from a history book than an actual screenplay. The filmmakers are bizarrely determined to pepper in as many historical details as possible as they introduce literally every character with an on-screen title card, regardless of how irrelevant they prove to be – is there really an audience member excited to get a glimpse of Zhang Taiyan or Wu Tingfang? Every ten or twenty minutes the film jumps to another speech or battle, filling the gaps with dense blocks of text citing dates and events that make little sense to those who aren’t Chinese historians.
Even the scenes of combat are oddly languid, frequently becoming nothing more than extended slaughter sequences where unseen enemies plough down our revolutionary martyrs with Gatling guns as inspirational music swells ensuring we note the historical significance of these moments. 1911 is a disappointing mess that I can’t recommend to anyone other than obsessive fans of Chinese history. Those lured by the appeal of Jackie Chan or war epics should stay away.
1911: Revolution arrives on DVD May 11, 2012.