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Confucius

Confucius

By Patrick Samuel • May 12th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 1/5
CONFUCIUS (DVD)
Showbox Media Group

Release date: October 4th, 2010
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 125 minutes

Country of origin: China
Original language: Mandarin with English subtitles

Director: Hu Mei
Writers: Chan Khan, He Yanjiang, Jiang Qitao, Hu Mei

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Zhou Xun, Chen Jianbin, Ren Quan, Lu Yi, Yao Lu

The teachings of Master Kong are still very much embedded in the lives of those who follow them today.

They can be found in the Analects, a collection of aphorisms compiled after his death in 479 BC. They’re more towards practical ethics than religious doctrine; dealing mostly with the conduct of life rather than the worship of deities.

While some sayings reflect on how sacrifices should be offered and how spirits should be dealt with, it is always clear that Master Kong is more concerned with how we live our mortal lives among each other and how we contribute to mankind. His philosophy, like existentialism, is akin to humanism.

Confucius

It then seems entirely appropriate that the life of such an influential teacher should be the focus of a film. Confucius recounts key moments in Master Kong’s life; from when he was promoted to Minister for Law in his home state of Lu through, to his exile, and then writing what would be embodied in the Analects today.

In one of Master Kong’s sayings, it’s easy to see what he thinks of those who busy themselves with the practice of serving ghosts and the dead rather than focusing on what we can do for the living. What’s here and now is more important that what’s not. According to Master Kong, first these things must be understood before looking further.

11. 12 Zilu asked about serving ghosts and spirits. The Master said: ‘If one is not yet capable of serving men, how can one serve ghosts?’ He ventured to ask about the dead, and the Master said: ‘If one does not yet understand life, how does one understand death?’

Confucius

For a teacher who talks about serving man and whose teachings bring us closer to humanism, Hu Mei’s biopic presents us with a different picture of Master Kong than what we infer from the Analects. Here he’s more of a military man and politician and the writers, Chan Khan, He Yanjiang, Jiang Qitao, along with Hu Mei, seem to have favoured a very loose retelling of events in the teacher’s life.

Confucius

In another of his sayings from the Analects, Master Kong talks about sages. He is asked by Zigong if would consider a man who helps mankind to be humane. Confucius’ answer is clear; such a man who brings salvation to mankind would be far above that, he would be held with highest regard and be considered a ‘sage’.

6.30 Zigong said: ‘Suppose there were someone who benefited the people far and wide and was capable of brining salvation to the multitude, what would you think of him? Might he be called humane?’ The Master said: ‘Why only humane? He would undoubtedly be a sage.’

Confucius

For its grandeur and excess, together with its sweeping and at times ineffectual score, Confucius’ sense of decorum wears increasingly thin if you’re actually familiar with the teachings on Master Kong. I struggled to understand why they chose such a narrative which makes for a tiresome picture and does little justice to a great, historical figure.

In another passage from the Analects, Master Kong discusses his regard for ‘gentlemen’; those who are superior because they observe righteousness and aim towards humanness. Master Kong says he hasn’t been so lucky to meet one as wise as a sage, but he would be content to meet the next best thing.

7.26 The Master said: ‘A sage I have not been able to meet, but a person who manages to meet a gentleman will do.’

Confucius

Confucius withdraws from bridging the gap between the world of war and politics with what we see present in the Analects and also to engage us sufficiently in the dialectics that students of the philosophy of China and Japan are well schooled in.

Its philosophical discourse is absent here and it’s in stark contrast to other epics that have focused on great influential thinkers such as Siddhartha (1972), Gandhi (1982) and Wittgenstein (1993). In these films there is much emphasis on how experience, reflection and action follow a cycle.

What should have underlined a film like Confucius is his most important message in the ethics of reciprocity, known as The Golden Rule.

15.24 Zigong asked: ‘Is there a single word such that one could practise it throughout one’s life?’ The Master said: ‘Reciprocity perhaps? Do not inflict on others what you would not wish done to you.’
SOURCES:

  • Kupperman, J.J. Classic Asian Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2001
  • The Analects by Confucius

I think this is the most important thing Master Kong would like us to remember and to practice in our lives. This emphasis is oddly absent in the film. The teachings demonstrate a careful balance between Heaven and Earth, life and death, and that mankind must observe this balance in everything undertaken.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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