In 500 B.C., during China’s famed ‘Spring and Autumn Period’, Kong Ze (Confucius), a commoner revered for his outstanding wisdom, is made Minister of Law in the ancient Kingdom of Lu. Under his inspired leadership, Lu ascends to new heights but becomes a target of conquest for the warlike nation of Qi. Threatened with annihilation by their powerful neighbour, a desperate people turn to their greatest teacher to lead their most powerful army. When Confucius delivers a stunning victory against all odds, a jealous aristocracy sets out to destroy him, but they should never under-estimate a remarkable man whose wisdom is more powerful than the sword.
I’m quite a big fan of historical dramas, so the combination of Chow Yun Fat & a historical Chinese epic filled me with quite a lot of excitement as I sat down to watch this dramatisation of the famous Chinese thinker.
Unfortunately, that excitement soon turned to boredom.
Let’s get the good points out of the way first, shall we? For a start, the costumes & interior sets are superb, and are presented wonderfully by cinematographer Peter Pau.
Likewise, Chow Yun Fat is wonderful as Kong Ze, ably presenting this great man’s huge intellect to the audience while also giving a glimpse at a more human side (even if it is only touched on briefly). There is a problem with his performance, though, in as much as it is wonderfully played the director Hu Mei concentrates more on the myth than the man, meaning we don’t really get to see what drove him or inspired him to become the man that everyone knows from the myths.
The rest of the cast are largely either forgetable, or so interchangable (even with the numerous onscreen captions & introductions telling us who they are) that it’s sometimes hard to keep track of who is who & what their relationship is to the other.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only problem.
The use of CGI in a lot of the exterior shots looks terrible – the CG is very badly done, & looks like something you might have seen 10 years ago. This is terribly jarring & a real disappointment.
Also there is a great deal of time devoted to battle sequences where Kong Ze is completely absent, and the mix between war epic, philosphical contemplation & comedy sometimes doesn’t seem to fit together that well.
At times I was bored by Confucius, at others it was exciting & then it was informative. Unfortunately, it was none of these things enough to say that it was a “good” film.
There did feel like certain sequences were either altered or taken out or shortened, which if they had been presented as intended might have served the film better, but as it is it is just a mildly diverting, & sometimes interesting, look at a philosopher that doesn’t really do the man behind the myth justice.