Commissioned for the centenary of China’s violent Xinhai revolution, 1911 is also billed as action warhorse Jackie Chan’s 100th film. Pity that any sense of significance is undercut by what emerges as a plodding history lesson, given by a decent cameraman but a lousy writer.
Charting the twin careers of China’s first President Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao) and hero of the people Huang Xing (Chan, who also co-directs), 1911 slogs through its battered textbook of a script like a latenight, sub-cable docudrama. the action moves from one running street battle to another, mixed up with flag-waving political standoffs and long scenes of map gazing.
Bloated with patriotic fervour but bogged down in clumsy exposition, the passion never reaches the screen. At times the grand battle scenes and rousing speeches look sweepingly cinematic – no doubt thanks to Chan’s directing partner, ex-cinematographer Li Zhang – but they’re quickly marred by screen-filling blocks of text that try to patch over all the historical detail they couldn’t fit into a scant 100 minutes.
Chan, in a rare ‘serious’ role, does the best he can, allowing himself one camera-winking moment to flash his martial-arts skills. But proceedings are so needlessly jazzed up with jump cuts and slo-mo – and seemingly missing random chunks of important scenes – we can only hope that a better cut existed before being hacked to pieces in the editing room.
Nationalistic, preachy and staggeringly one-dimensional, this committee-made lecture is only saved by looking pretty. The revolutionaries of 1911 deserve better.