China is not yet unified in the Spring and Autumn Period. The country-to-be is a patchwork of feudal kingdom and states, constantly vying with each other for supremacy and territorial advantage. The kingdom of Lu is typical. The ruler of Lu invites Kong Qiu into the court as a trusted advisor and appoints him the court's Minister of Rituals. In court, Kong Qiu demonstrates the efficacy of his ethics and his own tactical brilliance by regaining Lu's control over three cities lost in a battle to the Qi kingdom three decades earlier. But Kong Qiu is outmaneuvered by the ruler of Qi who bribes the ruler of Lu to demote his minister and send him into exile. Kong Qiu sorrowfully leaves his family and begins a new life as a wandering teacher.
Kong Qiu and his disciples suffer great hardships as they wander in search of a new home. Ji-sun Fei finds Kong Qiu and brings a gift from his dying father, a jade ring symbolizing his unbroken link with his homeland Lu. Kong Qiu agrees to return to Lu but only as a teacher; he will not involve himself in politics. He is true to his word and sees out of his days working on his scrolls, editing poems and chronicling history.
Great men from the past are supposed to inspire our everyday lives, that is, if we knew about their greatness. For the longest time now, we have heard about Confucius and his greatness. But what exactly has this Chinese thinker and social philosopher done to deserve all these attention? What great doings happened during his lifetime to influence the Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese way of life? For someone who was born some 2500 years ago, what legacy has he left behind to have, gasp, Asian superstar Chow Yun Fat (Curse of the Golden Flower) take on this role in a biopic directed by a relatively unknown Hu Mei?
This Mainland Chinese production chronicles significant years in the philosopher’s life when he was the politician in the Lu State, and the years which he and his disciples travelled across the country to offer education to citizens of other states.
Naturally, Chow does a wonderful job of portraying Confucius. His star power definitely helps to bring up the movie’s appeal to another notch, especially with the many supporting characters played by Mainland Chinese actors. Not that they do not do their jobs well, but knowing the masses, someone like Chow is required to make the entire movie more interesting and engaging. Therefore, the Hong Kong actor’s assuring charisma is most welcome in this instance. Then there is the perfect Zhou Xun (The Message) – what can she possibly do wrong? In her very brief appearance as an emperor’s consort, she has some of the best lines in the movie. In fact, her parting dialogue with Confucius is what you’d vividly remember after the movie because of its emotional impact.
Director Hu has also gathered a decent team of crew members to produce a refined film which appeal to the senses. Peter Pau’s (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) cinematography, Yee Chung Man’s (True Legend) costume design and Zhao Ji Ping’s (The Emperor and the Assassin) music composition complement each other to up the refined factor of this well produced movie.
One thing which may test the patience of viewers who love loud and flashy Hollywood movies may be the film’s tone. It is clearly a serious film with some very serious themes to portray, for example, ethics and filial piety, but these may be lost in the slow and steady pacing of Hu’s deliberately serious production.
Sitting through the movie’s 125 minutes, we have come to realise that Confucius’ life is indeed an inspiring one. But acknowledging the fact that there is only so much a movie can relay, we have also concluded that there is much more than what has been presented on screen. If there is a wee bit of inspiration one can draw from this movie, resulting in audiences reading up on Confucianism, then we would regard that the movie has done its job.
This Code 3 DVD contains a Music Video for the film’s end credits song performed by Faye Wong. Too bad we didn’t get to see the much missed singer in this collage of scenes from the movie.
The movie’s visual transfer is pristine, and is presented in its original Mandarin soundtrack.
Review by John Li
Posted on 2 May 2010