1911 (2011)

1911 [辛亥革命] (2011)
AKA 1911 Revolution

Starring Jackie Chan, Winston Chao Wen-Hsuan, Li Bing-Bing, Sun Chun, Joan Chen, Jiang Wu, Jaycee Chan Cho-Ming, Hu Ge, Ning Jing, Yu Shao-Qun, Dennis To, Huang Zhi-Zhong, Mei Ting, Xing Jia-Dong, Bobo Hu Ming, Huo Qing, Qi Dao, Tao Ze-Ru, Olivia Wang Zi-Wen, Michael Lacidonia

Directed by Jackie Chan & Zhang Li

Expectations: I don’t expect traditional Jackie.


1911 was released in 2011 to celebrate the centennial of the momentous rebellion that ended 2,000 years of imperial rule and established the Republic of China. It is a film painted in broad strokes, seeking to tell the story of the Xinhai Revolution from the Second Guangzhou Uprising (April 27, 1911) to the swearing in of Yuan Shikai as the second Provisional President of the Republic of China. Major players like Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao Wen-Hsuan) and Huang Xing (Jackie Chan) are well-represented, but the film isn’t specifically about them; it’s about China and the overall effort of all involved that led to the revolution’s success. This makes 1911 more detached and broad than is traditional in American historical films, but it does exactly what it sets out to do very well. It’s a film likely to divide audiences, but I definitely enjoyed it and look forward to revisiting it in the future.

The film begins five months before the Second Guangzhou Uprising, as the members of the Tongmenghui are gathered in Malaysia for the 1910 Penang conference. There Sun Yat-Sen and the other leaders (such as Huang Xing) planned the upcoming uprising against the corrupt Qing government. The men are on the brink of going to war, but we see them in the quiet days beforehand, when they are still able to enjoy frolicking on the Malaysian beach. After the meeting, Sun Yat-Sen left to continue fundraising efforts among the overseas Chinese sympathetic to the cause. Over the course of 1911, we follow both Sun Yat-Sen in the US and Huang Xing as he leads the troops into battle. The importance of both men’s actions (and hundreds of others, as well) is brought into sharp focus by crafting the film like this, and it becomes easy to understand how the rebellion was able to succeed despite going up against the much more powerful Qing government. It was a war on two fronts, waged physically and mentally.

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Shaolin (2011)

Shaolin [新少林寺] (2011)

Starring Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Fan Bing-Bing, Wu Jing, Shi Yanneng, Yu Shaoqun, Xiong Xin-Xin, Yu Hai, Bai Bing, Jackie Chan

Directed by Benny Chan

Expectations: High. A big-budget Shaolin Temple remake? OK!


Benny Chan’s Shaolin is an interesting film. It’s got the look and the feel of a big Hollywood feature, but its subject matter is firmly rooted in the cultural history of China. It also features action and martial arts scenes that harken back to the 90s heyday of Hong Kong action cinema. Unfortunately as a whole Shaolin isn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Shaolin is a loose remake of the 1982 film Shaolin Temple, the film that introduced Jet Li to the Chinese moviegoing public. I haven’t seen Shaolin Temple in a good fifteen years so I can’t comment on whether this follows the same story or if it does a good job of adapting the tale to fit its needs. A quick glance at the Wikipedia synopsis shows that while there are certain elements that carry over, Shaolin is basically a new story.

Andy Lau plays a ruthless general who values little over wealth and power. He’s our main character (and the hero) but this doesn’t become apparent until about forty-five minutes in or so. This makes for a strange, somewhat off-putting opening section of the film that I think would have better served the story if it had been tightened up. I understand the reasoning behind structuring the film as they do and it does lay great groundwork for scenes later in the film, but for the movie to not have a distinct identity until forty-five minutes in is a bit odd.

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