Movie Review: Confucius (2010)
By Christopher Kinsey
Chow Yun-Fat was in a string of very cool action movies for a long, long time. This was a man who made gunfights cool again in a post movie western world. So like many I found it jarring that he did a movie about the founder of a great discipline of ancient thought. Even in its native China, this movie had many decriers bringing the choice of lead and director as disrespectful to the legacy of Confucius. But the film went through and faced its greatest foe, the box office returns. James Cameron’s Avatar released right next to Confucius and the thoughtful life of a man who thought governments and people should be kind to be prosperous was shunned in favor of the movie with more 3D explosions.
And I have to say, they missed out. I had low expectations for this film myself; the life of Confucius is never seen as a real attention grabber when it comes to a big budget blockbuster. But this film has a great depiction of the principals and character of Confucius as a man amid the chaotic times he lived in. The film is a short take on Confucius’ life from his 50s as a politician in the kingdom of Wu to the end of his life when he wrote the Spring and Autumn Annals. As a person who doesn’t know much about this age of Chinese history, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this anthology of the events that galvanized Confucius as such a figurehead of virtue. But as a story this film captures the qualities that make Confucius the people’s teacher. Stories of how he stood up against barbaric practices among the ruling classes, stories of his mental with when it came to politics and stories of his hardships during his wondering period while exiled from the kingdom of Lu.
There are a few battle scenes. Confucius himself never dons battle gear and mixes things up like Dynasty Warriors. Instead you tend to see the outcomes of his strategies and the epic scale undertaken in battle. Scenes with a little action have these great details in them, such as a defeated general’s honor guard finally surrendering and how a few of them take their own lives. An American style film would have focused on that act, and not the entire scene. But using the entirety of this surrender and seeing every aspect of it gives the scenes in this film a kind of legitimacy one doesn’t expect from historical adaptations. The acting even makes the very emotions of the characters come to light. Chow Yun-Fat is very subdued and peaceful for being, well, Chow Yun-Fat. His performance gives Confucius the air of a man who is steadfast in his principals of honor and peace while pained when those he loves are harmed because the world is so chaotic. Many of the actors playing the disciples and major rulers keep an air of dignity and loss amidst both war and politics that makes for a very believable world.
There are a few moments in the film that seem a little off. For its two hour running time there seems to be a few moments that could not be missed. One of them is a scene which Confucius meets the wife of the king of Wei, Nanzi. The scene struggles around a slight romantic link between the two, but ultimately there is none. Which is as it was, reports were Confucius took no other woman after he was exiled and left his family with what was left of his fortunes. Then there is a period of time where Confucius is alone in his exile, and these scenes drag on to a point I actually fell asleep. I went back and looked at it, but one could have easily made this scene a short lead in to the moment the disciples finally find him and they continue their journey. If I had one more negative on this film it’s the English dub. Funimation has a great stable when it comes to voice acting, but even here they seem to be in an anime mindset. The mouth flaps are rather unnatural while the changes to the script overstates everything just to try to fill the gaps the Chinese and English languages inevitably have from time to time. It’s kind of distracting and I wouldn’t recommend it too much.
But as a historical drama this is the kind of thing we could use more of. A good mix of character study and a good grasp of the times our characters were living in to bring home the need for change and the dynamic of the story. It’s a shame that the timing of this film was off, then I think it would have gotten a lot more attention at home and abroad. But as the “Great Teacher” once said: “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
- The attention to detail makes the setting believable and a great backdrop
- The acting shines through with feelings of real emotion
- A great start into learning more about Confucius and the time period he lived in
- The dubbing seems more akin to animation rather than a live action film
- Several scenes linger a little too long when the impact has already been generated
- Lots of the historical record is overly worded for on screen text, rather than just being a date and location.