Confucius says, "Read Judge Roy Hrab's review."
Our review of Confucius, published March 22nd, 2012, is also available.
Wisdom is the mightiest weapon.
Who has not heard of Confucius, the famous Chinese intellectual who lived from 551 BC—479 BC? Confucius brings the philosopher to the big screen with Chow Yun-Fat (Hard Boiled) as the title character.
The question is: How interesting can an epic film about the life of this (or any) ancient (or modern) philosopher be?
Facts of the Case
An elderly Confucius sits in contemplation, recalling earlier days when he served his leaders faithfully. We see him protect the weak through rational argument and defeat superior armies by outwitting them. However, despite his good deeds, and preaching of ethics, Confucius finds himself brought down by political machinations that fear his influence. He finds himself wandering China with his disciples, hoping that he can one day return home. Will he live to see that day?
Confucius is a film with epic aspirations. At times, it succeeds in meeting its ambitions through some stunning visuals and a couple of battle sequences. However, it never comes close to meeting its goals in terms of delivering a compelling drama. As a result, the film drags because it's difficult to fully engage with the story.
A major problem with Confucius is that the film is made for a Chinese audience that possesses a strong understanding of the history. However, a Western audience without such background is likely to get lost in the avalanche of names, dates, and locations that are flashed across the screen at various times during the film. I found myself bewildered by the subtitled text notes on many occasions because I had no idea why the event/person in question was important enough to warrant the text.
Another weakness is the episodic nature of the film. Instead of taking on a couple of events in the life of Confucius, the makers opt for an episodic approach. This gives the film the feel of a highlight reel of the late end of Confucius's career. This fractured narrative doesn't allow the much drama to build. Also, the periodic structure makes for further difficulties in following the action for those unfamiliar with the history. It's likely that two feature length films would have better served the subject matter.
Despite my criticisms, Chow Yun-Fat is convincing as the famous philosopher. He ably displays the characteristics one associates with Confucius: humility, self-control, mercy, intelligence, and deference to authority. The rest of the cast is strong, but this is all about Chow Yun-Fat.
Confucius (Blu-ray) is presented in 2.35:1/1080p high definition, the picture detail is excellent, black levels are robust, and colors are strong, bold, and bright. The CGI effects are okay, but definitely not on the same footing as Hollywood. The TrueHD 5.1 Surround mix is also excellent. The dialogue, effects, score, and all other sounds are delivered as close to perfect as you can get. No complaints here.
The extras include a trailer, a standard definition DVD, and a number of behind-the-scenes/making-of featurettes, covering the actors, historical and political context, logistics, the use of animals in the film, and the battle scenes:
• "From Chow Yun-Fat to Confucius"
It's an adequate supplements package, but nothing particularly engaging.
Despite the best efforts of Chow Yun-Fat, Confucius has epic moments and looks beautiful, but doesn't deliver on an emotional level. This superficial presentation isn't likely to appeal to those genuinely interested in a dramatized version of Confucius's life.
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