DVD Review: Epic Chinese film of the Revolution combines propaganda and history
The Founding Of A Republic
Publisher: Vendetta Films
Run time: 138 mins
Release date: 15/04/2010
RRP: $ 29.99
The television series The Pacific has been a major spectacle on the box recently but a number a commentators have pointed out that the historical context has been skirted over very lightly like many American populist films. Apart from the aim of killing all the Japs there is not much analysis of what either side was fighting for.
In contrast The Founding of a Republic, which has just been released on DVD concentrates on the wider context of a major war. While it is a propaganda film it is not exactly what you would expect as a semi official version of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Chinese Republic. It takes an almost documentary approach to the Chinese Civil War and the formation of the Republic and there is a sense of honesty about it.
It has been made to celebrate the founding of the Chinese Republic in 1949 and is one of the most expensive Chinese films ever made.
If one were to compare what a similar film about the birth of the USA would be like then this film is pretty soft in terms of propaganda clichés.
The film spans just a couple of year at the end of the Civil War (1945 - 1949) and establishment of the republic under the leadership of the Great Helmsman.
It is a film which is about the politics and party politics of the dramatic changes in China at the time and reveals political machinations as in involved and dubious as any other political group trying to achieve power.
The plight of the Chinese people before the revolution and during it is only briefly touched on and the film generally presents a sanitized view of the period.
The great strength of the film is in the realistic and sympathetic depiction o f the main characters.
Even the bete noire of the Mao, Chiang Kai Shek is given a sympathetic treatment, a portrait of a man under political pressure.
The two American figures John Leighton Stuart, the Ambassador to China and Secretary of State Dean Acheson as well as Joseph Stalin are presented as politicians rather than raving imperialists
Mao is also presented in an unerstated way. He doesn’t spout aphorisms from The Little Red Book, although his dependence on cigarettes would be a joy to tobacco companies.
There is not much of the history of pre civil war China but the various images of Sun Yet Sin, the father figure of post imperial China are a reminder of the previous struggles to establish the republic.
The role of Madame Sun Yet Sin and other powerful women such as Madame Chiang Kai Shek underscore the important role that woman had to play at the time. The one woman who is absent however is Mao’s wife Jiang Qing who must still be persona non grata in official Chinese history.
At times the film seems to be trying to cover too many of the political events, battles, meetings and discussions and one can lose track of the close to one hundred characters and it starts to seem like a dense Russian novel.
It is well served by a dialogue which manages to help build the characters as well as provide enough information about the political developments without being overblown or meaningless as can so often happen in historical films.
By comparison with other grand epics The Foundation of a Republic is an intelligent and well paced film which captures the sweep of history as well as showing how individuals create history.