Jackie Chan’s 100th film is now playing in select theaters, and if you were unaware, you’re not alone. Unlike the movies he’s known for, 1911, about the Wuchang Rebellion that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, is a gritty, serious and violent war epic. It’s unfortunately also a terrible movie.
The movie takes place around 1911, though it’s hard to say for sure because the English captions were so small and indecipherable it was impossible to discern what events were being shown. The movie skips from one important battle or event to the next, but offers little narrative transition other than an unreadable bunch of text.
Few movies can skip large chunks of time without establishing a steady flow, or characters, and 1911 carries out this technique worse than most.
Visually, 1911 looks pretty good. Director Zhang Li, with guidance from “general director” Jackie Chan, assembles some decent action sequences where bullets fly freely and explosions ripple across the screen. Lots of people die. I’m not sure who, nor do I care, but a lot of people die.
The editing, however, is terrible. Like, painfully terrible.
As previously mentioned, the movie jumps from one moment to the next with little narrative glue. Zhang doesn’t give the story room to breathe or develop. Without hesitation, he jumps right into the action, completely failing to establish the characters. The editing – with flashbacks to several rebels who are killed within the first few minutes of the film – implies I’m supposed to care about these individuals, but Zhang doesn’t give me a chance to connect with any of them. Even Jackie Chan’s character is utterly underdeveloped, and he, apparently, is meant to be the central protagonist.
Even within scenes, the editing is so frenetic and strange it’s hard to understand what the filmmakers were attempting to accomplish. The action scenes, while visually decent, lack any suspense or tension, primarily because Zhang inserts the audience into the middle of battles without establishing the setting and characters. Emotional investment is impossible. And even in dialogue-driven scenes, the camera angles change at such a steady clip it’s hard not laugh.
Oddly, as a result, the subtitles fly by so swiftly it’s challenging to follow the dialogue. Usually subtitles don’t bother me in the slightest, but 1911 requires steady concentration.
At least the subtitles help cover up the shoddy acting. When the movie switches to English at times, it becomes painfully clear how bad the acting is. The English-speaking actors are dreadful.
1911 is a Chinese movie made for Chinese audiences. Unlike other Jackie Chan movies, the story – and explanation of the story – is not very transferrable to America. But even taking that into account, 1911 is a bad movie. Poor acting, terrible editing and choppy narrative form the perfect storm, and the most imperfect of movies.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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