CONFUCIUS [KONG ZI | 孔子]

China 2010   Directed by: Hu Mei  Produced by: Han Sanping, Hu Mei  Cinematography: Peter Pau  Music: Su Cong  Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Zhou Xun, Lu Yi, Chen Jianbin, Yao Lu, Ren Quan, Zhang Kaili, Jiao Huang, Wang Ban

It’s not an easy venture to make movies based on historical figures. Many producers and directors probably wish they hadn’t tried. If or not the movie succeeds crucially depends on the intention I guess: in Confucius’ case honesty is a central part of his teachings and can also be considered a key parameter for evaluating movies dealing with respective icons.

Honesty however is not Hu Mei’s main concern it seems. Whereas many of the historical facts presented in CONFUCIUS seem more or less accurate, the persona of Confucius is clearly exploited for political purposes. Confucius, certainly one of the great philosophers of China, was and/or became someone who despised politics, and so it shouldn’t be surprising if many of his followers will be less delighted by this movie.

Bottom line is that CONFUCIUS is nothing more than another historical epic, just like the flood of similar works apparently leaving China on a daily basis. The film script hardly scratches the surface of things and simply wants too much, jumps nervously from event to event without ever giving us a chance to digest the facts and acts or to identify with the characters.

What remains is a dazed and confused chapter of Chinese history and a Chow Yun-Fat looking like the almighty, omniscient Jack of all trades, master of none, who quotes a couple of wise lines every two minutes with a kind of drug-infused smile (my my, he is sooo kind and good-natured). Of all the epics of recent months CONFUCIUS is the least impressive: it’s almost completely bare of dramaturgy, the plot goes nowhere, like a rudderless boat; Peter Pau still does some camera magic, but can’t prevent the second unit from screwing with the film by delivering heaps of material that looks strikingly different and often very bland; excitement or tension are non-existing, because conflicts are never really taken to the edge, or visualized at all actually. Many events are rather reported than shown, at times CONFUCIUS feels like reading a newspaper. Too bad, as one or two really great scenes (the said Pau magic) prove that the film could have been much more emotional and touching. CONFUCIUS is like milk pudding, it’s simply missing the balls.

Worse than this is the fact however that Confucius is made a spokesperson for the communists. On one hand he’s supposed to represent the intellectual qualities of the great Chinese government: Confucius’ ideals and those of the communist leaders appear to be identical, and the government presents itself as big fans and guardians of true Confucian thinking. An insult, if we consider that Confucius’ values and ideas are often the opposite of the “ideals“ and/or the reality of communist China. The People’s Republic of today can hardly claim to be in line with Confucius’ teachings. CONFUCIUS on the other hand expresses the universal leadership claim of the Chinese government: Confucius is per se the greatest philosopher ever. Period. Well, not only is this a ridiculous absolutism, but it also makes Confucius the most important cultural and intellectual property of China 2010 A.D. – and therefore part of the marketing strategy of Brand China.

It’s quite disappointing to see that a wonderful actor like Chow Yun-Fat participates in this political orgy. CONFUCIUS allows little insight into the work and life of the philosopher, but primarily wants to reassure a young audience of their national identity, let them know that all Chinese are equal (and equally great) and must stick together, and that all that is so much more important than political disagreements or the question which political system the state considers best for its people. Keep the people happy, whatever it takes.

CONFUCIUS 2010, that’s Panem et Circenses of the modern age. The difference: the games of ancient Rome at least kicked ass, CONFICIUS however is primarily devoted to boredom.

J.




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One Response to “CONFUCIUS [KONG ZI | 孔子]”

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