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Confucius, Hollywood style
on 21 April 2011
This was actually a very enjoyable movie to watch, being cinematically lush in the manner we have come to expect from big-budget Chinese cinema productions. True to the blurb, the large scale action sequences were suitably epic, but refreshingly brief, and not predominating over the political intrigue which gave the film, at least to one not too conversant with the relevant history, a satisfying sense of intelligent authenticity. As a movie it was clearly flawed once we moved into the period of Confucius' exile, which was depicted as a succession of rather loosely connected, and possibly over-sentimentalised episodes. In fairness it is hard to know how this part of Confucius' life could be turned into a convincingly unified narrative, but something more artful than this could surely have been contrived. Nonetheless, as I say, I enjoyed the movie and felt myself to have come away somewhat educated and, all things considered, was prepared to credit it with being a four star experience. However, once I started zooting about on the web investigating the background of Confucius' life, I was subject to a sense of deflation accompanied by a feeling of tedious inevitability. Search as I might I could find no mention of Confucius directing vast battles, perpetrating elaborate military ruses, or engaging in high-stakes archery contests at any point in his career. All my reading suggested that Confucius was strictly a man of ideas and letters, devoted to moral conduct and its application to politics. I can find no trace of the Hollywood style action hero this film attempts to portray him as. So, another star gone - three stars.
An interesting aside is the PRC Government's controversially heavy-handed support for this movie in its competition with Avatar at the time of their simultaneous release. Considering that during the Cultural Revolution the party line was that Confucian philosophy stood entirely discredited, it is interesting to ponder the significance of his present rehabilitation, and how hopefully it bodes for the eventual ethical orientation of the newly emerging superpower. Viewed uncharitably this film is Confucian bubble-gum for the masses, but its core ethics are entirely sound, and as such, it just might be the interpretation of the Confucian legend that modern China needs to hear right now.