1911 (Collector's Edition)
Released by: Well Go USA
Released on: January 10, 2012.
Director: Zhang Li
Cast: Jackie Chan, Li BingBing, Winston Chao
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Zhang Li’s 1911 is a massive historical epic that tells the story of what happened when the Qing Dynasty fell and The Republic Of China was formed. While this isn’t something that’s generally considered common knowledge in North America, that doesn’t take away from the fact that on an international level, this is obviously quite an important time in history and one which, on these shores at least, hasn’t been explored all that much in the movies. While parts of this story are going to be a little confusing for those who go into the film without at least a smattering of background knowledge of the events (meaning go read the Wikipedia entry before watching this one – it’ll help!) there’s no denying how well made this film is on many different levels.
But first, a brief discussion of the plot – in the titular year of 1911 there is unrest growing in the land and the people are becoming unhappy with the Qing Dynasty. A growing sense of nationalism is coming into play and lead by a man named Sun Yat-set (Winston Chao), who allies himself with Huang Xing (Jackie Chan), a revolution soon forms and the country is overturned. Huang handles the military duties, while Sun takes on more of a philosophical and political role.
First things first – 1911 has this incredibly annoying tendency to put text on screen to announce the appearance of pretty much EVERY character in the film. While this is fine once or twice, particularly as it pertains to the important players in the film, it’s overdone to such an extent that it grates on the nerves and comes dangerously close to ruining the film, almost like it’s a bad joke. Looking past that, however, you can see how and why this film would do as well as it did in its homeland even if it’s not likely to have the same sort of success on an international level. The scope of the film is impressive and the movie is beautifully shot. There’s some great period detail here and the use of color goes a long way towards establishing mood and atmosphere. The cinematography is flawless and the score is both sweeping and emotionally involving, more so even than the script at times (which tends to overdramatize things to the point where it becomes heavy handed).
Performance wise, those expecting to see Chan in his typical ‘clown prince of kung-fu’ role here are going to be disappointed however it’s nice to see him stretch his dramatic chops in this, his one hundredth picture. He does get one decent fight scene (which feels out of place with the dramatic intent of the film and which seems crammed into the movie for the sole reason of having Chan in a fight scene, something his audience no doubt expects) but for the most part his role here is a dramatic one and he does very well in the part, as does Winston Chao who brings to his part the right amount of charisma and spirit.
Interestingly enough, this film works as an interesting companion piece to Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, which it shares historical and thematic elements – they make for two sides of the same coin so to speak. The earlier film, however, is more narrow and refined in focus, making it easier for audiences to latch on to the emotion in the story whereas 1911 takes a vastly different approach and goes very much for the ‘epic’ it wants to be. This is noble and understandable, but at the same time it hurts the film as there are so many characters introduced here that there are moments where it’s hard to feel the focus of the film on the central characters.
Well-Go USA presents 19112 in an AVC encoded 1080p 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen high definition transfer that looks very good. The quality of the image itself is generally remarkably detailed and crisp. Some slight edge enhancement is there, as is some slight digital scrubbing in certain scenes and if you look for compression artifacts you might see some of those as well but these are all very minor. None of these factors are overpowering at all. The film was made with a certain style in mind and so it shouldn’t ever be the most colorful looking picture in the first place – in fact, it’s fairly dark and drab for a lot of its running time, but this transfer does replicate the intended look quite well. Contrast is good and skin tones are rendered fairly well and this definitely offers up more than standard definition can provide. All in all, the image is very good and leaves little room for complaint though it should be noted that there are more than a few times where the filmmakers go for an intentionally soft look for certain scenes, during which, detail isn’t quite as impressive as it is in other moments. That’s not a flaw, mind you, just more of a general observation.
This disc offers up DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks in Mandarin and English with optional subtitles offered in English only. Aside from a few typos here and there, the subtitles are done well and are easy enough to read. There are frequent directional effects used throughout the film, and the score is spread out very nicely. The action scenes have a really strong weight to them and this helps give the movie more ambience and atmosphere and makes it a more involving watch, while the more discrete moments in the movie offer some decent ambient noise in the rear channels. Dialogue/sound effects level issue aside, the movie sounds very good here. Optional 2.0 Stereo tracks are also included in Mandarin and in English. The English tracks are fine for those who want them but the movie plays so much better in its original language that unless you have an aversion to subtitles, it’s hard to imagine wanting to watch it dubbed.
This two disc special edition release contains a few decent extras starting with six different deleted scenes, all presented in high definition. None of these really change the tone of the movie all that much but some of them are interesting to see. There’s also a half hour long Behind The Scenes featurette that includes loads of footage shot on set but no actual interviews or narration to give it any context. It does give us a fly-on-the-wall look at what it was like to work on the picture but not much more than that. Two different trailers for the feature are also included and round out the extras on the first disc.
The second disc, which is a DVD, includes the film in standard definition as well as a five minute interview with the beautiful Li Bingbing. Additionally there’s a half hour long featurette documenting the press conference held to announce the film which includes input from Eric Li and stars Jackie Chan, Li Bingbing and Zhao Wenxuan. Rounding out the extras on the second disc is another half hour long Behind The Scenes featurette, once again offering up more unsubtitled fly-on-the-wall footage without any narration or context to it.
The Final Word:
1911 is visually stunning but ultimately a little hard to get into without a prior knowledge of the events that it’s depicting. A bit more background information and character development would probably have helped western audiences in this regard, but with that said, it’s interesting to see Chan cast against type here and doing as well as he does in the role. If you’ve got an interest in the subject matter, this one is worth checking out and Well-Go USA’s Blu-ray is a great way to do that as it offers up a gorgeous transfer and impressive audio as well as a decent smattering of supplements that, sadly, don’t offer the context some of us had hoped they would.
Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!