Confucius fails to impress critics

08:58, January 18, 2010      

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Chow Yun-Fat as Confucius.


Confucius is widely considered as representative of Chinese culture and philosophy, having influenced generations of scholars and thinkers at home and abroad. Shooting a biopic of the great sage can be paralleled to Mel Gibson attempting The Passion of the Christ (2004), requiring more talent than courage.

Weak media reviews followed Confucius' prescreening last week, director Hu Mei's interpretation of the almostholy figure labelled as a show of courage, but not necessarily one of great talent.

The two-hour film, reflecting the life of Confucius from age 51 to his death at 73, is clearly divided into two parts, each an hour long. The first hour focuses on his political life and achievements, during which he led several "big-scene" wars. The second half of the fi lm starts with his dismissal and emphasizes his travelling life and spreading his philosophy among the people.

According to many film critics attending the pre-screening, the first half of Confucius is dramatic with exciting scenes and complicated character relationships, while the second is comparatively boring.

"This is the real life of Confucius. You cannot expect the film to be 100 percent exciting," the film's screenwriter Chen Han told the Global Times after Confucius' premiere in Beijing Thursday. Chen also wrote blockbuster Red Cliff for John Wu in 2008.

However, despite Chen's vision of sticking with reality, most of the audience said that they were not satisfied with the second half of the film, during which Confucius wanders from country to country, without any concrete dramatic conflicts. "The hour's more like a travel log, instead of a real film," commented Yang Lianjie from Beijing Morning Post.

The film has aroused several controversies since it was launched in early 2008, from casting Chow Yun-Fat as Confucius, to trailers that revealed action scenes during which Confucius exhibits Chinese martial arts and a love affair with Nan Zi (played by Zhou Xun) unfolds. Carrying high expectations, the final-cut of the film was disappointing with the much-anticipated action scenes deleted and most of the controversy removed.

"I did write and we did shoot the part where Confucius fights enemies with his walking stick, but after discussion we decided to take the scene out," Chen said. He explained that with the style conflict between the two halves of the film, adding such action scenes would have made continuity even worse.

Earlier hype about Confucius' love-life was also unwarranted, with Zhou's Nan Zi only making a brief appearance in the film and the relationship between her and Confucius shifted from love to simple admiration between student and teacher.

"This is the most important scene of the film. We changed the script many times and finalized their current relationship," Chen said.

Although different from what audiences are expecting from the trailers, the scene when Nan Zi meets Confucius is still the most dramatic and well-interpreted of the fi lm, according to critics. Much of the credit goes to the chemistry created between Chow and Zhou. Chow's performance is of the few more-memorable parts of the film.

"It has been a while that we have seen Chow paying so much attention and efforts to his acting," commented Sun Lingling from The Beijing News. After Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, Chow has opted for less serious roles, none as sophisticated as Confucius and he produced a panned performance in Dragonball: Evolution. Chow's selection to play Confucius met with much public criticism as the actor is from Hong Kong and not well educated. Critics and filmlovers questioned his ability to play such a cultural and traditional role. In this aspect, the film succeeds, with Chow portraying a strong and multifaceted image of Confucius, from the way he speaks and acts, to his complicated inner world.

"He has convinced the audience that he is Confucius," Sun added in her review.

Set to hit cinema screens across China on Friday, Confucius has already made Chinese film history, with 2,500 copies distributed across the country. In comparison, the largest distribution of a Chinese film with 1,450 copies was The Founding of A Republic, which was also a box office champion in 2009.

Confucius' director Hu refused to make a box office prediction for the film that is facing stiff competition against the exceedingly successful dominating film Avatar.

"We have tried our best for the film. I have faith and confidence, but the rest is left for audiences to determine."

Source: Global Times
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