The movie Confucius is obviously based on the historical person of the same name, founder of the philosophical movement of Confucianism. Personally, I know a little about Confucianism but really less than I’d like to. Therefore, this movie appeals to someone like me. However, I must admit, beyond a simple Wikipedia search, I don’t really know how much of the movie is autobiographically accurate and how many liberties were taken. Based on my meager prior knowledge and the wiki-gods, the movie seems to draw on true events and stories. I’m sure others will disagree. Having said all that, I really learned a lot.
Confucius was released in 2010 and directed by Hu Mei. Chow Yun-fat plays the main role and, as always, is a pleasure to watch even though some argue that he was not appropriate for the part; I suspect that their standards are extremely (or impossibly) high for this prestigious role. This is the story of Confucius, the person, as he rises high in political ranks around 500 BC, his eventual fall from grace, and his later return to normal society. The movie itself is visually beautiful with settings and large battles that fit the tone. However, I found that the pacing was slow in parts which might be partially due to the large amount of historical content that was covered. I also felt that the music was sometimes… pushy… much like that awkward guitar strum that occurred a zillion times in Brokeback Mountain whenever the characters had a “moment”. In this movie, the music sometimes becomes too blatant during moments of wisdom-giving. I wonder if that reflects a personal motivation of the director.
The story unfolds with a number of the significant events of the main character’s life, the disciples that followed him, and the politicians and warlords that governed society. As can be expected, Chow Yun-fat steals the show with some other good performances most notably by some of his prominent disciples.
Actually, Confucius fails at nearly all his goals. At one point (and in my favorite scene), his failure is so complete that he hallucinates an encounter with the other well-known philosopher at the time, Lao Tsu (father of Taoism), whose own teachings are often considered contradictory to Confucianism. I’m positive this scene didn’t sit well with many followers as they portray Confucius as a student of Lao Tsu, a debatable topic. However, it is not clear if it is meant as an actual student (which might have been possible) or a student in-spirit. It’s an interesting back and forth between the characters and I think purposefully left obscure.
To me, Confucius was a guy that I saw in paintings and statues, always portrayed as a high-society, virtuous persona. At the start, this is the character we are introduced to. That changes. Before seeing this movie, I didn’t know that Confucius and his students became outcasts who wandered the lands looking for a lord to accept them. The movie portrays the group as penniless vagabonds. I suspect that isn’t historically accurate.
There is some action in this movie but it is more of a cerebral film. I recommend seeing it, mostly for some of the well-done scenes and technical production aspects like the sets and scenary.