Well, Chow Yun Fat plays Confucius? Hmmm… I am confused. He will play Leon most excellently but Confucius? I was skeptical at first but after watching the movie, well, he is not too bad although I still feel that he doesn’t look like it. But it’s not a bad performance.
Confucius the movie is supposedly about the life and teachings of Confucius and all the trials and tribulations that he had to face in a society so brutal and hostile as the Spring and Autumn period in China (the time of Sun Tzu) which immediately precede the Warring States era, one of the most hostile era in Chinese history, until Shih Huang Ti unified all the states and formed the Qin dynasty, the first Unified Chinese dynasty as they more or less appear today, albeit expanded later (and where the name China supposedly came – or is it supposed to be Qina? hmmm).
To now realize that a person as Confucius to be able to preach and practice the idea of a “Gentleman”, the “Superior Man”, based on the ethical theories of rites and rituals, empathy and reciprocity (do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you), righteousness, etc. in an era of barbaric conquest is indeed something great. To put order back to a society so barren in order, to preach for the respect for people and trust and righteousness in an era where everybody is doing the opposite, these are great teachings indeed.
Of course, Confucius is no idiot as we can see in the movie. He is really good in archery and military deployments, and as we can also hear from the dialogue, he is well versed with Sun Tzu’s Art of War too (although I am not sure if he is really so – but I think a person of his learning, he would have known) – e.g. quotes from the Nine Terrains chapter is obvious.
So did the movie live up to its expectations? To many people, the movie seems slow and it dragged on and on. At a certain time in the movie, I find myself looking at my watch, which is not a good sign and I do feel the same, the movie is a bit draggy, and unnecessarily so. One could easily think of the movie A BATTLE OF WITS (which I talked about here). In that movie, we see yet another philosophy, Mo Tzu’s Mohism, in action. Mo Tzu’s time is after Confucius, and the peace-loving nature of that philosophy is similar to Confucius although the similarity ends there. Mo Tzu disagreed with Confucius’ hierarchical society and over attachment to rites and rituals and instead preached a philosophy of universal love where everyone is equal.
The production quality of the movie is very good and given the big budget movies nowadays (there is so much money in China for production!), high production quality is a given nowadays. Anyways, I would think that this is a good movie to go to if you would like to know a bit about Confucius and his life but if you already know about him, there is nothing much that this movie can offer. Maybe you would just want to watch it because it is a movie about Conficius and that it is quite a good production. But beware of the yawns.
There is something missing from the movie, and I think that is a smooth narrative flow and purpose. After the movie, what I felt was the movie is like a pictorial slideshow just to showcase Confucius’ teachings, and for that, the movie felt artificial. So if you want to go and watch it, go only for four reasons, 1. You want to know something about Confucius and knows next to nothing about him, 2. You like historical movies and likes well produced movies, 3. You are a huge Chow Yun Fat fan, 4. You’ve got nothing better to do and got lots of cash.
Other than that, don’t.