Starring: Liu Ye, Zhu Yawen, Huang Zhizhong
Director: Andrew Lau
Running Time: 133 mins
The Founding Of An Army is a Chinese film about the story of how the People’s Liberation Army was established, in the years of trouble and conflict of the early 20th Century, and along with the rise of the Communist Party.
The political turmoil that China found itself in in the 1920s and 30s is an absolutely fascinating history, and one that undoubtedly deserves a great biopic to bring it to life. Unfortunately, The Founding Of An Army really isn’t the one to fit that bill, proving a tiresome and rather dull affair at over two full hours long, and failing to really grab you because of its awkward jumps between enormous and excessive action and drawn-out, propaganda-esque dialogue sequences.
But we’ll start on the plus side, with the fact that the film is better than The Founding Of A Republic, a 2009 biopic of the years leading to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. With better production values, a little bit more gritty realism, and a lot less focus on dull, ideological conversations between major players in the Communist and Nationalist parties, The Founding Of An Army does prove an improvement, and can even at times offer up the odd bit of entertainment.
For one, there are a couple of action sequences that do impress thanks to the fact that they don’t hold back from showing the brutality of warfare. While the film heaps praise on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) throughout, it still has a good few sequences of soldiers really suffering in a war context, actually managing to bring the film’s very idealistic vibes down to earth at times.
On the whole, however, the reason that The Founding Of An Army doesn’t work is simply because it’s just too long, and too over-the-top. Firstly, there are numerous sequences in which Mao Zedong and other leading Communists come together to discuss both their battle plans and their ambitions for taking down the tyrannical Nationalists that they had once fought side by side with, and while most likely historically accurate, really don’t prove gripping or important enough to the story to justify their continuous inclusion.
Also, the film does unfortunately feel a little too preachy in its praise of the PLA and the Communists throughout the history. Yes, it’s an interesting story, but there’s too much of a propaganda feel here, much like The Founding Of A Republic, and it really does dampen the potential entertainment factor, as well as having an impact on how convincing the passionate, albeit often wooden, performances are.
On the whole, The Founding Of An Army is a step up, but not up high enough to really prove a riveting and powerfully impacting historical biopic. Despite the true intrigue and importance of the history on display, it’s a disappointingly preachy and extremely overlong watch, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.1 overall.