1911 is wasted on anyone not intimately familiar with China's revolution. And by that I mean at the same level of an Indian being familiar with all the players of the 1857 revolt, their fates, their stories, and how they all fit together to form that piece of history.
It is a lavishly produced film, with the production calling for thousands of extras, many different battle sequences and period-perfect costumes and architecture everywhere, but the expense doesn't translate to entertainment, as it is also the single most boring film I have had the pleasure of watching Jackie Chan in.
The movie's inaccessibility in no way means that it is boring - it is the weirdly jingoistic tone it takes all throughout and the poorly shot battles. 1911 is made to commemorate 100 years of the Xinhai revolution, marking the end of the Qing dynasty rule and the stepping down of child emperor Puyi, who is being taken care of by his mother, empress Longyu (Joan Chen).
Introduced in quick succession are many of our players, including Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao), the father of the nation, and revolutionary leader Huang Xing (Jackie Chan), the primary. Soon, the film inexorably starts introducing revolutionaries with an alarming pace, only to have them leave and never come back, or meet a swift death, or even just to be never mentioned again.
In paying lip service to every single important functionary, not only does it get denser for those uninitiated, it becomes plodding and lagging in any major import. The film is content in showing us a face and a name title, and letting us feel upset about their fate. Even for those who know these characters intimately, this must feel like getting the short shrift.
The formation of China as a republic is a complicated sequence of events, none of which the film treats cinematically. The battle sequences are shot with a lot of camera swooping about, but it is apparent that the film would rather move on to the next event.
The bits in other countries, where Sun Yat-Sen meets with many people to ask for aid or specifically not provide aid to the monarchy, are treated hilariously, where all foreigners are treated as a waste of screen estate and yet given strange lip service.
This is also a very nationalistic film, with patriotism dripping through it, something I abhor in homegrown films as well. It's quite disconcerting to see the same patterns repeated here - jingoistic leaders giving up their lives for the greater good, always noble men and women dying only for their cause, while the powers that be cackle in utter hegemony.
Jackie Chan co-directed this movie, a passion project of his and a subject very close to him. As is now common for such a magnum opus, it feels disconnected, meandering, and lacks the human drama to connect to it. Except for a few brief moments of pure cinematic glory, in which Chan relishes the part of a nationalistic hero, the rest of the film feels like Aamir's Mangal Pandey