Coming hot on the heels of "The Beginning of a Great Revival," it is tough not to dismiss "1911" as yet another in the recent string of officially sanctioned not-so thinly-veiled propaganda pictures coming from China, this time telling in heroic terms the story of how the Wuchang uprising led into the Xinhai Revolution and brought down the Qing dynasty in the year, you guessed it, 1911.
The film flops back and forth between excruciatingly earnest discussions of political ideals and brutal battle scenes. Frequent on-screen titles introduce various characters as "French bank representative" and the like, yet still the storytelling often comes out as an impenetrable jumble, as director Zhang Li and screenwriters Wang Xingdong and Chen Baoguang never get past the need to explain absolutely everything.
"1911" marks Jackie Chan's 100th film, and here the actor, who also carries a "general director" credit on the project, plays the military leader of the rebellion. Though there is lots of battlefield action, only once does he unleash the sort of inventively freewheeling close-quarters martial arts moves that are his trademark. (Though the sequence seems to have been shamelessly included for his fans, it is nevertheless the high-energy point of the movie.)
Throughout "1911" the sense of dutiful intentions blocks any building momentum. When an English-speaking character appears to declare that history is being made, it only underlines the obvious.
"1911." MPAA rating: R for war violence. In Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. At Chinese 6 Theatres, Hollywood; Edwards Alhambra Renaissance Stadium 14, Alhambra; Rave Motion Pictures 18, Los Angeles; and Krikorian Monrovia Cinema 12, Monrovia.