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Original Title:

China 2010

War, Drama

Hu Mei

Chow Yun-Fat
Chen Jianbin
Ren Quan
Zhou Xun
Yao Lu
Lu Yi
Wang Ban

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Story: Kong Qiu (Chow Yun-Fat), who is later known by the name Kongzi resp. Confucius, is a scholar and mayor in the Kingdom of Lu. When at a public session he denounces the barbaric ways of the old tradition of burying alive slaves along with their deceased masters and his concern is being applauded the ruler of the kingdom believes that the time has come to support Confucius and to spread his teachings. The scholar gets promoted to minister of justice and is consulted in important political affairs. Thus, he is supposed to travel to the neighboring Kingdom Qi along with a delegation in order to strengthen the friendly bonds while already being aware that an ambush is awaiting him there. However, Confucius' keen intellect is more than once about to help him in dangerous situations and so he finds himself put to use by the ruler of Lu as a political and military advisor, although he wishes for nothing more than to be allowed to spread his moral teachings and make the country a better and stronger one from within. Soon the ruler of Lu sees Cofucius' growing influence as a danger for his country and so he banishes him. Years of wandering are about to come for the thinker and his students and the countries he travels through are also oppressed by war and chaos.

Review: If you shoot a movie about one of the greatest philosophers in world history the audience should have high expectations. "Confucius" surely has been made with some good-will as director Hu Mei seems to be an admirer of the thinker himself, but strange decisions like putting the main focus of the movie on the political and military events of the country as well as the feeling of being pieced together that you have throughout the whole film destroy a lot of what "Confucius" does right. In the end Confucius' life story was supposed to become an epic war movie which the Chinese market is flooded with nowadays. That was a decision that maybe makes the movie quite entertaining on a superficial level but in the end it creates a strangely inconsistent image of a movie which simply can't meet the expectations. By that the movie oftentimes lacks the profoundness of Confucius' teachings and one even has to wonder if you actually get to see the essential parts of his teachings at all and what was exactly the aim of the movie.

It is obvious that there has been excessive tampering with "Confucius". The at times inconsistent way in which the movie has been edited makes clear that the government as well as the successors of Confucius had a lot to criticize about the film which led to a compromise being created that only appealed half to any side. This becomes the most apparent in the role Zhou Xun has in the movie. She is the Queen Consort of the ruler of Wei and a love story between her and the married Confucius is being hinted at. In the end Zhou Xun's role has been cut down to a mere few minutes in the film which makes it even more unfitting that Zhou's role is being handled as if playing an elementary part in the story.
As already mentioned it's also a shame that the producers were keen to bring the Warring States Period to the screen in some epic battles only to keep the entertainment value high. The armies animated at the computer running across the battlefield like ants and other CGI-effects don't look that convincing at all times.

It would have been nicer to get presented with a more meditative film about the life of the philosopher in which the drama of Confucius having no success in his lifetime stood in the foreground. Only because of his students the thinking of the master has been spread and written down as well. The movie also delivers a far-fetched explanation why there aren't any of the writings by Confucius's own hand preserved and we also constantly get to see numerous students of the master which, however, at some point are of such great dimensions that it's impossible to keep apart the different individuals. It's just as difficult at times to follow the political entanglements in every detail. The nature of the movie also doesn't allow us to see a human behind the master. Actually, that's not entirely true, we time and again get to see that Confucius is a man with strengths and weaknesses, but what sort of they are remains hidden. As a viewer you would have wished for more answers about the man Confucius and his story than what we are presented with here.

Concerning all the problems the movie has it's interesting to know that during pre-production Chinese fans had strong concerns of Chow Yun-Fat taking on the role of the great thinker. Supposedly because he had to put up with some serious setbacks in his career the last few years and because he dominated the big screen as an action hero before. However, Chow proves to be the biggest asset of the film. He bestows the necessary grace upon Confucius, yet makes him look like an ordinary man and he manages to bring his doubt and idealism to the big screen in a convincing fashion. In fact, Chow Yun-Fat carries the film completely on his shoulders alone and at all times keeps this incoherent work from falling apart. Without him the movie might have become a catastrophe which makes Chow display his expertise as an actor very effectively. Even if you hadn't thought it to be possible he has been a very good choice for the role and with a script that would have dealt with what's important he even could have gotten out more of his role.

If there aren't any mediocre computer animations to be seen Peter Pau ("Perhaps Love", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") wows us with his outstanding cinematography. Standing in complete contrast is a unnecessarily sentimental and eventually sappy soundtrack which outright destroys some of the more dramatic scenes. But the biggest flaw of the movie remains the screenplay which is merely pieced together and therefore makes the end product lack the necessary profoundness that would have been appropriate concerning the subject. We get an inside look at the accomplishments of Confucius and an idea of what a pioneer he was for education but there is still a lack of enlighting moments which we are actually expecting around every corner. "Confucius" is therefore a bumpy movie that puts its focus too much on epic battles and political struggles only to be able to entertain the masses. Without Chow Yun-Fat the movie would have become a far more problematic matter and so there are at least a few moments in which the movie goes down the right path as for the ending which actually manages to be conciliatory.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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