Chen Kun Becomes “Dark Horse” of “The Founding of a Republic”

Chen Kun has been singled out in praise for his acting in the film Jian Guo Da Ye, commemorating the PRC’s 60th anniversary (today in China time), not an easy feat when the entire film consists of  stars. He was chosen to act in the film as Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, future president of Taiwan, because he  had a youthful air about him, as well a brooding pensive quality. He ended up playing it so well, that he was given more screentime while others were cut.

Here he sings red song Yin Shan Hong at the premiere ceremony a few weeks ago. He’s no Huang Ying, but I think he did a good job anyway.

I normally hate to talk  politics in general, but since I am posting about this movie, I’d like to clear up a few things about the political aspect.

Most people have a knee-jerk reaction to this movie, because it’s “propaganda”. Perhaps, but not like you think. Due to closer cross-straight relations, and a celebratory nature of the movie in general, this  will probably show the Nationalist side of the civil war as very sympathetic, which will in turn cause many Chinese youth to wonder what exactly the communists were fighting for in 1949 . And as much as the Mao-led government sucked afterward, the status quo before the civil war gave  every reason for revolution. Frankly, this movie will definitely be much more balanced  and less one-sided than The Patriot was to the British.

Yes, the Founding of a Republic differs from the usual film with so many celebrities, but the great hodge-podge of the famous in times of celebration is a Chinese tradition, and 60 is a significant number.  Otherwise, this type of movie doesn’t happen often. China has plenty of state-sponsored films but the majority do not depict politics, but instead inspirational figures. idarklight posted about one before starring Liu Ye. They are meant to inspire, and unfortunately  they do have stigma attached and no one goes to see them.

Still from 1963's "Strange Visitors on Cold Mountain" depicting the confrontation in the climax

Still from 1963's "Strange Visitors on Cold Mountain" depicting the confrontation in the climax.

Even  the state-sponsored films that do touch on politics, which were more prevalent back in the 60s,  shouldn’t be labeled under one umbrella.  Some were good and some were bad. Some were fake, biased and contrived, while others dealt with politics deftly and were no more biased than most non-Chinese movies. Strange Visitors on Cold Mountain was brilliantly made. You can watch it here (sans subs) and I very much recommend it. The opening is classic, set to the haunting  score by Lei Zhenbang. The song Chen Kun sang is Yin Shan Hong, which depicts  a type of wild red azaela that covers the mountains in Southern China in summer, and is a metaphor. I love the song, but the movie of the same name, from which this song came from, was  a very contrived one, since it came out right after the Cultural Revolution and in my opinion, not worth watching.

Below is a clip of Jian Guo Da Ye director Han Sanping  joking that even though he’s supposedly the director, “Nothing [he] says matters” because there’s too many directors (as cameos) on set. At 1:16 in the clip Feng Xiaogang sits down behind the camera and says not to waste film ; Zhang Ziyi sitting behind the two directors laughs, amused by this. Like her, I think it’s cute when directors get excited about their work and can’t help but direct, because it’s their life, their love, their passion. And it will be interesting to see what they have worked hard to produce. Let’s not dismiss their work because of preconceived idea of what it consists of, especially when it’s meant to be balanced and accommodating to both sides of a civil war, something that’s quite the rarity.

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4 thoughts on “Chen Kun Becomes “Dark Horse” of “The Founding of a Republic”

  1. Very, very, very interesting. Some day when my Chinese is better I’ll have to watch Strange Visitors on Cold Mountain.

  2. I guess I’ll have to see this to judge; it’s 3rd on my list to see of the 5 new releases, after The Message and My Fair Gentleman, but before The Warrior and the Wolf and Wheat, both of which I probably will never get to. But they are all a big second to Le Huo Nan Hai, which is what I would have spent my money on if I could only see one movie during the summer-fall period, because why would you see anything else when you could see a 3-D musical?

    But I just don’t think Jian Guo Da Ye really should get the tag that it’s probably labeled with in people’s minds if the best thing that came out of it was a portrayal of the Nationalist side, and Chen Kun was purposely given more time because he portrayed that side so well.

    It seems…really hard to make the film in a way that doesn’t offend the nationalist party in Taiwan, but also makes people so happy and proud the CCP was established 60 years ago. I guess they did it, but it only follows that it would come off as a bit measured and boring.

  3. Chen Kun really was one of the bright spots of that film. Practically all of the other actors spoke in the same measured, serious diction, but he actually had something behind his words, something that made him seem more than just a puppet intoning Serious National History. A much better film could have been made about the Chiang father and son (although probably not on the mainland for the 60th anniversary), as opposed to the hodgepodge of scenes (a few of which are actually quite effective) slapped together with little narrative cohesion. As a piece of cinema it’s a total failure, but it’s still interesting for star watching and as a reflection of national mythmaking.

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