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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.

Speaking of those “hundreds of others,” 1911 makes the interesting choice to introduce many of them with their name and affiliation on-screen during their first appearance, much like many wuxia films do. The amount of people named and introduced to us is staggering, so unless you already have a lot of familiarity with the events it’s unlikely you’ll keep up with it all. I found this aspect to bring my thoughts to the idea of the individual within this greater context. Given the reality of the events portrayed, every one of these “characters” are real people who lived life with their own convictions and desires. In the case of the revolutionaries, they fought to leave a better China to their descendants. Each person isn’t given much time, but in mentioning their name it makes their presence impactful as a piece of remembrance. Everyone is someone, we are all pieces of the grand puzzle of life, and it took many lives and sacrifices to create the Republic of China.

There is a fair amount of battle action contained with 1911, but like the rest of the movie, it is not presented traditionally. Some of the scenes bear a standard narrative flow, but many of them are only there to show key moments or to give a general idea of what was occurring on this front of the revolution. It’s all incredibly well-realized, but those expecting war action will be disappointed. Of course, the presence of Jackie Chan will also set up expectations, but 1911 just isn’t that type of movie. Jackie does get into one small fight, which is very nicely choreographed, but it’s almost out of place in this particular movie. Jackie’s voice was also dubbed by another actor in both the Mandarin original and Cantonese dub of the film, so this further compounded my feelings of distance and emotional detachment that the film exhibits overall.

Overall, I really enjoyed 1911 and I would recommend it to anyone interested in getting a broad picture of what happened during this time in China. It is a bit slow in parts, and I’m not sure if it’s entirely 100% historically accurate, but everything I researched for this review jived with what the film presented. Also of note: I watched the original 121-minute cut for this review. I know there was a 99-minute version prepared for the US market, and I can only imagine that it’s not nearly as successful a movie.

Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is Police Story 2013! He made Chinese Zodiac in between these two, but I already reviewed it! See ya then!

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