Beginning of the Great Revival is stylish, but it's an abbreviated effort
Starring Andy Lau and John Woo. In Mandarin with English subtitles. Rating not available.
Just as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin was commissioned by the Soviet Communist Party to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Russia’s 1905 rebellion, so was Beginning of the Great Revival commissioned by the Chinese Communist Party to celebrate the 90th anniversary of its founding.
Largely thanks to its revolutionary editing techniques, Eisenstein’s 1925 feature is still regarded as a modernist classic, but it seems unlikely that directors Sanping Han and Jianxin Huang’s handiwork will be remembered with the same reverence. And, no, this won’t be because they basically made a propaganda movie. That’s what Potemkin was, after all, not to mention How the West Was Won and 10,000 other “Manifest Destiny” snow jobs.
Technical ineptitude, the second most likely suspect, is likewise not the problem.
Though stylistically conservative, Beginning of the Great Revival is competently made, and its huge budget is shown to excellent effect. The acting is also more than credible (as well it might be, since the cast is fleshed out with the likes of John Woo and Andy Lau).
The real problem is this: what should be a 10-hour movie has been cut down to two. Thus, as we travel from 1911 to 1921, we see scores of historical figures who appear for a few seconds then disappear, sometimes forever. The subtitles explaining who is who and what is what are often longer than the subtitles dealing with dialogue. Some of the combat and suspense sequences are quite exciting, but all too soon we return to a revolving-door narrative.
What the film looks like more than anything else is the précis of a really terrific miniseries. In other words, its real problem is a painful absence of connecting tissue.
Watch the trailer for Beginning of the Great Revival.