Confucius (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 1, 2012 by Dennis Amith
An intriguing film about China’s greatest philosopher and idealist, Hu Mei’s “Confucius” is a film that can introduce his teachings to an international audience or a new generation who may not be familiar with the great thinker. “Confucius” is entertaining!
TITLE: Confucius (Kong Zi)
FILM RELEASE: 2010
DURATION: 125 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio), Mandarin and English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
COMPANY: FUNimation Entertainment
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Directed by Hu Mei
Written by Chan Khan , Jiang Quitao , He Yanjiang , Hu Mei
Produced by Po Chu Chui
Executive Producer: Sanping Han, Rachel Liu, John Sham, Punhoi Yu
Music by Jiping Zhao
Cinematography by Peter Pau
Art Direction: Chaoxiang Lin, Huaiqing Mao
Costume Design by Chung Man Yee
Chow Yun-fat as Confucius
Zhou Xun as Nanzi
Lu Yi as Ji Sunfei
Chen Jianbin as Sunsi Ji
Ren Quan as Yan Hui
Yao Lu as Lu Jun
Ban Wang as Shu Sunwu
Zhenyu Quiao as Son of Confucius
Chow Yun-fat stars as Confucius in the inspiring, action-packed saga of a leader whose wisdom and cunning were more powerful than any sword.
In this sweeping battlefield epic, Confucius finds his lands threatened by the fires of war. After leading the nation’s most powerful army to victory against hordes of invaders, the new hero finds even greater danger in the jealous eyes of the aristocrats he fought to protect.
“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” – The Golden Rule by Confucius
He is known as the greatest sage of all ages, the idealist and educator who was known for being one of the greatest Chinese thinkers and philosophers.
It is also through the teaching of Confucius’ principles that is strongly intertwined into Chinese tradition and belief such as one’s loyalty to family, worship of ancestry, the young must respect their elders and the family as a basis for an ideal government.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the 2,560th birthday of Confucius, a film was made to honor Confucius, also in the hopes to remind Chinese of his teaching, introduce the younger generation to Confucius as well as those around the world.
“Confucius” would be interesting in the fact that action-star Chow Yun-Fat was cast to play the role of Confucius. But because the film would feature Confucius at the age of 55, the same age of Chow Yun-Fat and his strong worth ethic, filmmaker Hu Mei gave Yun-Fat the opportunity.
The film would also star Zhou Xun (“Suzhou River”, “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”) and feature the return of Chinese pop star Fei Wong (who had been on hiatus since 2005) who sung the theme song for the film.
“Confucius” begins with an elder Confucius looking back at this past. We are then taken around 20-years-earlier, Confucius (played by Chow Yun-Fat) who is in his 50’s has been promoted from Major to Minister of Law in his home state of Lu.
Confucius is a well-respected man and is considered a great thinker, but he is often tested.
One example involves a young boy who escaped a mass slave sacrifice for his deceased master (note: During this era in Chinese history, before statues of people and animals were used, slaves were sacrificed along with their masters). The young boy is being chased by the military but is found by Confucius’ disciples who hide the boy in the home of Confucius and they beg if he can help the boy from being killed.
This leads to a confrontation between the soldiers who want custody of the boy to be buried along with his master, but Confucius fights for the boy and speaks against the long-banned inhumane sacrifice ritual of human beings.
We see Confucius use philosophy and logic to prove his point and eventually secure the boy’s freedom.
The film also goes on to show how Confucius along with Duke Ding of the State of Lu, met with the duke of the State of Qi and bravely and successfully ask the State of Qi to return several cities that were taken from the State of Liu, to be returned.
The ability to accomplish such a big task without having to wage war, began to increase the popularity of Confucius, but also show how popularity can lead to trouble for the other leaders and thus, led to the exile of Confucius and his disciples.
While the first half of the film focuses on how Confucius helped the State of Lu, the second half of the film focuses on Confucius and his disciples who went on a 14-year journey, traveling to many states in order to instill their political ideology (Confucianism) on other people.
Eventually leading Confucius to the state of Wei, but also meeting Duke Ling and his concubine Nanzi (played by Zhou Xun). But through these long travels and encountering many who do not want Confucius in their area, the film also showcases the danger that Confucius and his disciples (including his son) had to face, may it be war or the elements of nature.
“Confucius” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio). For teh most part, the picture quality is very good. Cinematography of beautiful landscapes and costume design are expected, but there are some moments where the CG and the use of the green screen didn’t seem to look natural. Colors are saturated and there are moments where I saw some banding issues, but for the most part, the film looked good on Blu-ray.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Confucius” is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 via Mandarin and an English dub track. The film does utilize ambience especially the sounds of arrows during the action sequences, the sound of wind during the snow storm or the crackling of ice or even the breaking down of the city walls which sounded very good. But for the most part, the overall mix was adequate for this film. It’s not an immersive soundtrack but dialogue is crisp and clear, the musical soundtrack by Jiping Zhao was fantastic, but the film is primarily front and center channel driven.
As for the English dub, I prefer to watch Asian films in their original language but for those who are not into reading the English subtitles and prefer to listen to the English dub, the good news is FUNimation Entertainment are known for casting wonderful voice talent and the voice acting may please those who prefer in hearing the English dub.
“Confucius” comes with the following special features:
- From Chow Yun-Fat to Confucius – (7:10) – Behind-the-scenes with Chow Yun-Fat and director Hu-Mei.
- A Woman, A Bosom Friend – (7:04) A featurette on Zhou Xun and her preparation for her role.
- Chaotic Period of Spring and Autumn – (6:59) Director Hu Mei talks about the creation of “Confucius” and the challenges she faced.
- From Chow Yun-Fat to Confucius Special Edition – (6:59) The cast and crew talk about the hiring of Chow Yun-Fat to play Confucius and their thoughts about working with him, plus interviews with Chow.
- The Politicians – (7:12) A looking into the politics of the film.
- Animal Stars – (7:43) Behind-the-scenes footage of the animals in the film.
- Progressing in the Snow – (6:26) Cinematographer Peter Pau talks about the snow scene.
- The Warfare – (7:06) How the green screen segments of the battles were filmed.
- Original Trailer – (1:43) The original theatrical trailer
- Trailers – Funimation Entertainment trailers
“Confucius” comes with the Blu-ray and DVD edition of the film plus a slipcover case.
“Confucius” was an intriguing film for me, but because I am not a Confucius erudite, I must admit, I felt a bit unsettled because I wondered how can someone with a life that has created an impact on Chinese culture, be condensed in a two hour film.
Also, because the film was made to help introduce Confucius to a new audience, a younger audience, the film could not be cerebral or too philosophical and thus the film introduced many war elements into the film.
For me, “Confucius” intrigued me so much that I spent hours researching his contributions to Chinese society, going through philosophy blogs that debate his book or those who support his work but also to go through criticism and praise for the film. To find out what people liked and what made people ticked about the film.
Suffice to say, “Confucius” has received a lot of criticism even before the film was made into a reality. For one, the hiring of Chow Yun-Fat (a Hong Kong Cantonese-speaking actor) instead of a mainland Chinese actor who speaks Mandarin and also the fact that Chow Yun-Fat’s film career has been based on action.
Then there were rumors that drew the ire of many people. Mainly because of the film featuring Zhou Xun’s character of Nanzi and that Confucius will be having a romance with the actress in the film. It’s important to note that this never happens in the film but the rumors persisted especially due to misconceptions of the theatrical trailer that a descendent of Confucius filed a lawsuit in order to have certain scenes, especially anything intimate between Confucius and Nanzi to be removed.
And last, there were Chinese who were upset that Chinese authorities removed James Cameron’s “Avatar” from film theaters and replaced it with “Confucius” in order to prevent the sci-fi film from taking any money away from “Confucius”.
But regardless of the criticism of the film, “Confucius” was going to be a film that was not going to please everyone. As scholars and those who respect Confucius’ teachings may find the film blasphemous because it does not focus on the actual idealist and educator but more of the politician and military strategist.
It is quite obvious that the writers had to make concessions in order to win over a younger audience but quite possibly an international audience. From the hundreds of arrows being shot in the air and a brave Confucius beating on the drums as arrows come crashing all around him. It does make for great action, but I am aware that the use of action in a film about Confucius may be disconcerting for those who want more of the intellectual side of the well-known sage.
And for a man with a long career, to fit so much into a 2-hour film, there is only so much that can be done. I felt the writers tried to appease both sides by bringing in a plot around militaristic action and balance it with the use of philosophy and ideals without being too cerebral and I accept that.
As for Chow Yun-Fat, I felt he did a good job at playing Confucius. And no, for those wondering if Confucius engages in any martial arts or if he fights, the answer is no. This is a thinking man, a man who appreciates music, ethics, politics and social relationships with sincerity.
As for historical accuracy, while his teaching can be found in the “Analects of Confucius”, there were some instances that relate to his disciples that I was checking online for hours to see if these characters actually existed and if some of their demise was factual. I couldn’t really find anything to support if the demise of disciples as shown in the movie was fiction or non-fiction but through my research, the actual events that relate to the states and the war, especially the “meeting” with the State of Qi and the tearing of the walls, information relating to those scenes were easily found online.
As for the Blu-ray release of “Confucius”, the picture quality was very good but it did have some issues. Lossless audio was appropriate for this type of film, although it would have been even better to have a bit more of an immersive soundscape during the more action-intensive scenes. I am glad there were several special features that show the making of the film but also how passionate the writers, the crew and talent were in making this film a reality but also trying to be respectful to Confucius.
Granted, there is more to Confucius than what the writers could touch upon in 2 hours and anything delving too much into the idealist and philosophy may appeal to his followers and the intellectuals but that would have made the film too cerebral and would eventually turn off the younger viewers, especially many of its international viewers who are not too familiar with the respected philosopher. And because of its trailer, many people would expect war and a lot of battles.
Overall, “Confucius” was an intriguing film that was neither great, nor was it terrible. If anything, I was satisfied by the film to the point that it made me want to research all I can about Confucius for hours.
Prior to watching this film, I hardly knew anything about Confucius but now I find myself interested in reading the “Analects of Confucius” and discovering and learning more about his work.
For anyone who is curious about Confucius especially those who may be fans of Chow Yun-Fat or actress Zhou Xun, you may find “Confucius” to be intriguing, entertaining and a film worth their while.
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