Liu Ye and Yang Kaihui star in "Beginning of the Great Revival." (China Lion Film )
An opening title card announces that the new film "Beginning of the Great Revival" was made "in commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the birth of the Communist Party of China." Unfortunately, the movie never overcomes the dutiful weight that implies.
A companion piece to the 2009 feature "The Founding of a Republic," "Great Revival" is in many ways the very definition of propaganda — it even ends with an image of a waving flag — but "Revival" is too harmlessly flabby to be taken quite that seriously.
A valiantly flawed effort at telling a long, complicated story somewhat succinctly, the film features on-screen titles throughout to introduce characters and dates and locations in an attempt to crib a shorthand of events for viewers not deeply schooled in the history of China between 1911 and 1921.
Directed by Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin (as was "Republic") from a screenplay by young writers Dong Zhe and Guo Junli, "Revival" is repeatedly bogged down by the filmmakers' desire/need to movie-ize the tale, make it more than just a dry retelling of historical events. Simply put, does the origin story of Chinese Communism really need a romantic subplot?
The scenes that actually seem to be about what the film purports to celebrate are often just a bunch of guys in a room talking passionately about how they envision the future of their country. In context it provides a certain amount of drama, but it's still more egg-heady than heroic.
A poster for "Great Revival" declares that the film's cast features more than 150 top stars, but even the undeniable power of actors such as Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau can't make the project better than respectfully dull.