- Category: Culture
- Created on Monday, 01 August 2011 19:57
- Written by Kasama correspondent in south China
The film "The Beginning of the Great Revival" is a huge event in China (and therefore the world). The Chinese government is seeking to preserve the legitimacy of its party and state by revisiting the formative liberation struggle emerging out of the global shocks of World War 1.
This film both describes stirring moments of courage and class struggle -- while it legitimizes one of the earth's leading oppressive governments.
It is the celebration of a brutal ruling party -- carried out by vividly describing the world-changing birth of a truly revolutionary party.
Clearly this film's arrival is a cultural event with the kind of complexity that dialectics was invented to describe.
Kasama has already posted the trailer for this film. Here is our first review by a reader, coming from our correspondent in South China. (It is the latest of the reports by our Kasama reporter in China.)
The Beginning of the Great Revival
You can tell me a movie is engaging the audience in China when people quit answering their cell phones. On the afternoon I saw The Beginning of the Great Revival, this point occurred as the rebellious students of the May 4th Movement poured into Tiananmen Square to denounce the Versailles treaty that ended WWI. Like many points in the movie it was well crafted and powerfully evocative.
A young woman silently confronts a line of soldiers by holding a banner written in her own blood. Students appeal to soldiers guarding government ministers and win them over as they pour into the compound and roughly confront those in authority and then set fire to the building. Finally, the government brutally strikes back.
The middle aged woman next to me, who has already taken two calls and was on the phone when this scene began, had stopped talking; the phone still in her hand as tears streamed down her face. I am not sure what this scene meant to her but to me in brought alive the memory of all the times the radical youth of China have flung themselves at the authority of the state and yes that means the Red Guard of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and yes that means the students and workers that poured into Tiananmen Square on May 4th, 1989.
Of course reviewing a movie in a language I am still learning (and far from proficient in) is its own unique challenge. Still the outline of history is well known and the film follows the big events from the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 until the founding convention of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921.
The young Mao gets a large role in the movie and like other current depictions in movies here, he is played with a serene, yet still commanding presence that has everyone always stopping to listen to him whenever he speaks. This exaggerates his own importance at this stage of history but there is also a recent emphasis on showing something of his personal life apart from political pronouncements. In this movie this is done through scenes of the relationship with the woman who would become his first wife.
On the larger scale the Bolshevik Revolution is shown and Lenin is depicted addressing first congress of the Communist International.
This may not be the first portrayal of Lenin in a major motion picture since the fall of the Soviet Union but is no doubt the most enthusiastic. Within China the movie supports Mike ely’s comments about the danger of misinterpreting the small size of the Communist Party in 1921. It may have only had 57 members then but many of these comrades were already playing leading roles in not only the mass student movement but also the beginning of the labor movement. The potential of this small circle was well recognized by the communist International and there are great scenes of the two Comintern agents shaking the police agents following them to find the location of the congress.
The were a few surprises in the film for me. The depiction of Yuan Shih-k’ai was well done and oddly sympathetic. Sun Yat Sen, on the other hand, was shown mostly looking earnest but disconnected to the dramatic events unfolding.
I was expecting to see the famous “meeting on the lake” as comrades sought to avoid arrest but it was done in a very visually striking way that made it almost surreal. The first congress concludes in a classic Chinese depiction of transcendent beauty with the delegates singing the Internationale, in Chinese, as powerfully and movingly as in the great crowd scenes on “Reds.”
From there to the end are a series of short, superb scenes that flash forward to show the desperate fighting on the Long March, the entry of the Red Army into Yenan, the advance against the GMD, peasants and soldiers celebrating together in a village, and finally a vast overhead vista of Beijing in a sea of red flags.
Yes, I liked the movie even though the guy that sold me the ticket seemed perplexed and explained (in Mandarin) that it was not in English. I responded, in English, that it didn't make any difference.
Red Salute from South China