This film was made to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution or Hsinhai Revolution also called The 1911 Revolution. It was part of a series of uprisings against the last Imperial dynasty that of the Qing Dynasty. The starting point is the Wuchang uprising where Jackie Chan playing Huang Xing leads a small group to slaughter, but inspired others to become `martyrs' for the cause.
That is the historical basis for the film and the makers did try to get as much of their version of history across as possible. A lot of the reasons for the revolt were an accumulation of grievances and the out moded feudal system that still persisted by the Manchu minority ruling over the Han majority; this is not really touched upon in the film. What we do have is the work of revolutionary fund raiser Sun Yat Sen played by Winston Chao, and his efforts to thwart more foreign aid going to the Qing's coffers. There is also the internal politics and screaming self interest that goes on at the Imperial court.
All of this is balanced fairly well with lots of fighting that is done in that colour filter way to add realism and on the whole is very good. The problem here is speed and editing. Every time a new character or location appears we have small print sub titles coming up in both Mandarin and English. Not only are they nigh on impossible to read on even a large TV, they also appear for a few seconds whilst at the same time the other subs for the dialogue appear too. Even using the pause button it was still a bit of a chore.
Then we have the foreigners who are all cardboard cut outs and played by some D list drama school drop outs, they even all appear to be dubbed; which is woeful. They are presented as all detestable and rude whilst being smug and selfish, whilst all of the revolutionaries are shining beacons of self sacrifice and service to the nation. We do have some ambiguous characters but they get so little screen time that we do not get much of a chance for any intrigue to build up. Also the other characters, of which there are many, are all only bit players so little chance to get much in the empathy bank too. I feel they tried to cram too much history in and were unsure of the vehicle, so had a kind of action propaganda idea with a love interest shoe horned in between Chan and Bingbing Li.
This also appears to have been edited down from the original film from 118 minutes to 95 or so, and I have no idea why; you do get over 100 minutes of extras though. This was co-directed by Chan and he may have bitten off a bit too much, also it is painfully obvious that allowances were made for the Chinese authorities who see the 1911 revolution as the beginning of modern China, which of course it was not, as that was fought for a republic and not a centrally planned Communist system.
All of that aside this is far from being a turkey, it just could have been a lot better historically and even failing that as a film, it is too busy, too rushed and too ambitious with too many barriers to achieve that ambition. In the end we have a passable film that is part action and part political shenanigans. This has scored particularly badly on Rotten Tomatoes, in the single figures at present, but that could be because in America this was billed as a Jackie Chan movie, and it is not a martial arts fest, he only does that in one scene, and is trying to do serious drama. Whilst that is all well and good, I think next time he might want to let someone else sit in the director's chair.