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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Founding of a Republic [Blu-ray]

(aka "Jian guo da ye")

 

(Huang Jian Xin & Han San Ping, 2009)

 

 

 

 

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Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Blu-ray: MegaStar (Hong Kong)

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime:  2:20:57.750

Disc Size: 44,721,887,347 bytes

Feature Size: 40,360,378,368 bytes

Video Bitrate: 27.97 Mbps

Chapters: 20

Case: European hard plastic case Blu-ray case w / flip page & slipcover

Release date: December 9th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 24 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio Chinese 2758 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2758 kbps / 16-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 16-bit)
Dolby TrueHD Audio Chinese 2136 kbps 7.1 / 48 kHz / 2136 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Chinese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English, Chinese (traditional and simplified), none

 

Extras:

• Behind the Scenes – in SD (35:10)

• Music Video – in HD (4:15)

• Trailer – in HD (3:40)

• Disc 2: DVD of the Feature Film

 

 

The Film: 6
Just ten minutes into The Founding of a Republic, the 60th anniversary docudrama that follows the events that led from the end of the WWII in the Chinese theatre to the founding of the CCP in 1946, I found myself longing for the looseness of another anniversary celebration, the movie musical, 1776. From what I think I know about my own country’s history, what 1776 gets right is the sheer improbability of it all. Everything from the weather to historical precedent to divided loyalties to economic preferences seemed to argue for keeping things just as they were. Histories can be like that – or they can unfold with a fatefulness that beggars description.

China, in 1945, wasn’t likely to maintain a status quo. There was too much momentum that began with Sun Yat Sun, the overthrow of millennia of dynastic rule, the founding of the Republic of China in 1912, and especially after his death in 1925. Through the next two decades of internal feuding and civil war fomented by the Nationalists and the Communists, during which the country first endured and then finally drove out the Japanese in 1945, two major personalities and their respective political proclivities emerged and were supported by a passionate military on both sides. Egos and fears, not so much different from those in play in 1776, were more intransigent. Lives and, especially for the Nationalist leaders, great wealth was at stake, not just principles.

While the inevitable Civil War in America took another eighty years to materialize once its Constitution was ratified by the requisite number of colonies, China found itself impatient to resolve matters once the Japanese were driven out and a power vacuum of sorts emerged. Its own Civil War was, for a country so much more vast and complex than ours two hundred thirty-five years ago, just as bloody, much longer, yet more decisive. While the American South retained its previous physical dimensions and statehoods after the war, it experienced itself just as ostracized and as separated from the parent stem as Taiwan for decades.

So much for my recollection of history lessons. The movie is more a documentation of events, a series of tableaux, rather than a dramatization of those events. Each tableau adds yet another name (and another major Chinese actor), prominently placed in the frame, to the list of the players. The scenes are generally brief, especially so for the first half-hour of the film, scarcely long enough to register the personae, let alone empathize with the courses of action open to them or the decisions made.

I imagine that, for a Chinese, irrespective of political affiliation, these scenes will be mere shorthand to register this or that emotional and/or patriotic state. For a foreigner, the movie plays as a document that we assume or hope reflects some truths about the story of how China moved from the end of WWII to the forced retirement of Chiang Kai Shek (Zhang Guoli ) and his Kuomintang Party – the KMT, or the Chinese Nationalist Party - across the Taiwan Straits four years later. Most of the film depicts how the irrevocable differences between Mao Zedong (aka, Mao Tse Tung) chain smokingly played by Tang Guoqiang, and his PRC (the Communist Party of China) and the KMT came to devolve into a resurgence of a Civil War that had been placed on hold with the Japanese occupation, and the final establishment of Mao’s faction over mainland China.


Image: 9/9
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.


As expected for a movie that proposes to honor a significant chapter in the history of modern China, the photography strives to be a beautiful as can be. And it achieves this intention admirably. There's isn't a scene that isn't composed and lit for maximum artistic satisfaction and, to some degree, for dramatic support of the events described. MegaStar's AVC high bit rate transfer of The Founding of a Republic to Blu-ray seems to be faultless. It is blemish-free and suffers from no distracting artifacts, edge enhancement, banding or DNR.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/7
I would have given the Audio a higher score if it weren't for one odd and surprising slip: the audio on my disc dropped out entirely for a second right in the middle of a battle scene at about 59 minutes into the movie. Otherwise, the dialogue is clear, crisp and properly sized and placed, the surround pans are well judged, rumbling noises from advancing military machines has plenty of bass weight, though not as much as it would were this an action thriller (which is all to the good.)

 

Operations: 6
With only a very few exceptions, the subtitled English translation is idiomatic and without grammatical or spelling errors. The font size is small, which is a mercy considering that the frame is sometime already crowded with unremovable descriptions of characters and events. The menu is in Chinese and English, however, I was unable to access English for one of the bonus features.

 

 

Extras: 2
Curiously, there are no audio commentaries. I think American studios would have been all over a movie with as much historical significance as this. The music video is not only in HD but LPCM stereo sound, though I was not particularly impressed by its lack of dynamic nuance. (Beware of asking for you want, Leonard!) The trailer in HD is impressive on all counts. The "Behind the Scenes" segment indicates several language subtitle options, but I was unable to bring up English, even though it was a clickable option. This bonus feature is not of particularly good image quality, nor does it seem to have the potential of interesting content, looking as it does like an amateur blogger's video stream.
 

 

 

Bottom line: 6
The Founding of a Republic is not particularly satisfying as a dramatic experience, though it serves as a condensed history of one of China's many bloody chapters. I can't say that I was always clear about the political developments as expressed, but reactions to them are perfectly unambiguous. My one complaint is that the narrative does not make clear – to me, anyway, that the "founding of the republic" rightly begins with Sun Yat Sun, and that the events depicted in the story not only leave out the intervening fifteen years, except for the most casual of summaries, but fail to make the point that Mao did not so much establish the republic as he consolidated competing political parties to one and, in so doing, created a Second Republic. The high definition is excellent, and audio, except for one slip at least, quite good. Extra features are neither subtitled nor informative.

 

Leonard Norwitz
February 24th, 2010

 

 

 

 

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About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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