Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I had my expectations set on Confucius the film being a tale of the man himself, one of the greatest and earliest philosophers and thinkers that had vast influence over a number of ideologies today, including the system of ethical governance. The trailer had suggested that besides being a learned man, he's quite the military strategist as well, like a precursor to Zhuge Liang, which of course is way off the mark as far as I'm concerned.
It seems like director Hu Mei had been influenced by a number of war films set in Ancient China from Battle of Wits to Red Cliff, and had been inspired to do her own, even if it had to involve Confucius. Good thing though she didn't put the philosopher, played by Chow Yun-Fat, into a suit of armour, but rather, starts off the narrative focused on his ascension to enviable political positions starting with the Law Ministry, before being Acting Interior Minister for the state of Lu.
A tale of two parts, the first half danced along the narrative tread of political intrigue, with court official envy and being the favourite adviser of the ruler, laying the groundwork for some serious rivalry and treachery to be dished out, especially when a talk of alliance with another state goes awry, if not for a Plan B up in the sleeves to bail them out of trouble. But hold on, was Confucius ever a politician to begin with? I do not know, but it didn't matter much, as there were glimpses of how his mind ticked, with discussions of ideals and ideas with his disciples being some of the highlights that one would have come to the movie for.
The second half though, was a let down. Unappreciated and driven away, Confucius starts his self-exile, and together with a small group of dedicated disciples whom we know very little of save for their names and titles appearing on screen, and most given extremely limited screen time, they wander around the film from city to city, and very much echoed the sentiments of the viewer - when will they settle down and get themselves into some serious classroom teaching? It's a pity that this section of the film decided to focus on how frail and aged Confucius had become with the passing of time, but little more. Pacing seems a little hurried as well, especially when dealing with subplots involving his disciples, with resolution being only a few minutes after.
Even Zhou Xun's cannot save the show, as she's given a combined screen time of not more than 15 minutes thereabout to turn on her charm as the consort of a kingdom that Confucius and his disciples pass through. In other words, a flower-vase role that completely underutilized the talents of this wonderful actress. Chow Yun-Fat cuts an imposing figure of Confucius and probably had what it takes in the first section, before the weak storyline in the later half muted his performance as a senior citizen with major issues to address for himself and his disciples, the first being the basic theories of Maslow in getting food and shelter for his followers.
I figured I would have enjoyed a film about Confucius more if it had taken a more in depth look into his character, his inspiration, his influences (that goes just beyond the churning of learned disciples to execute their like-minded philosophies) and of course, having all these done more through the narrative scenes, rather than through inter-titles which tell a lot more than the film itself. I think one is better off digging out Confucius epics of old, than to watch this spruced by version with very fake looking CGI.