Page last updated at 23:08 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 00:08 UK

Communist China's founding lauded in film

By Quentin Sommerville
BBC News, Beijing

Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square during rally in 1967
The film ignores Mao's purges and political campaigns after 1949

Mao Zedong knew better than most the power of personality.

The cult of Mao may be dead, but celebrity power is helping the Great Helmsman receive a Hollywood-style makeover.

The Founding of a Republic, or Jianguo Daye in Chinese, a new film from the state-owned China Film Group, is a propaganda epic that includes almost all the biggest names in Chinese film.

There are so many stars, about 172, that most have only cameo roles.

Jackie Chan is understated, in 'tache and glasses, as an un-named journalist.

Blink and you'll miss Jet Li, a navy officer who snaps Mao and Chiang Kai-shek a quick salute.

Zhang Ziyi, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is surprisingly dowdy as a women's committee member who advises Mao on the choice of flag for the new republic (ditch the yellow stripe, she tells the Chairman).

The film awakens national pride, there are a lot of Chinese movie stars that we feel proud of. It raises our self respect
Zhang Kuo, student

The film, which cost a modest £6m ($9.57m) to make - the celebs gave their services for free - has been released as part of the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of Communist China 1 October. It is showing in practically every cinema in the country.

"They wanted to work in the film to show their love and their connection to the country," said the film's co-director Huang Jiangxin.

"And in the film there are so many famous characters from Chinese history, with interesting stories to tell, so there were enough roles to go around."

Fans appear unbothered by claims of hypocrisy - this gift to the motherland has actors who have given up Chinese citizenship. Jet Li, for example, now has a Singaporean passport.

'History has chosen'

So many celebrities can be distracting, says Simon Fowler, film critic for Time Out Beijing.

"It's a bit confusing to have every three minutes another famous actor appear and to have so many things going on on-screen.

"The audience was very receptive to the film, they really enjoyed it. But I don't know if it works so well because there are so many elements they've tried to bring together and it all feels a bit rushed," he said.

Huang Jiangxin, co-director of The Founding of a Republic
The film's co-director Huang Jiangxin says both sides in the war are shown

The film is low on action, but high on committee meetings. There is little suspense, but the defeated Nationalists are given a surprising amount of screen time.

"The film is about the battle between Mao's army and the Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek. We show which side history has chosen - who won the fight," said director Huang.

"This is the first time we have given equal length of time to show both sides of the story."

And there are other surprises for an audience in today's one-party China - Mao and his fellow revolutionaries admit that they make poor economists.

They agree they must co-operate with capitalists and supporters of democracy.

"This movie tells the story of how a government was established through one party's co-operation with many others," said Huang.

Horror avoided

There are other messages too.

Chiang is seen discussing corruption and the threat it poses to his Nationalist government.

"Fight the corrupt in our ranks and our political party dies; if we don't, our nation dies," he warns.

Nationalist troops surrender to Communist troops outside Shanghai - 21 May 1949
The Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 as the Communists swept to victory

Sixty years on, corruption is endemic in China but it now lies among the ranks of the Communist Party.

For most though, the stirring orchestration and long parade of stars will be what they remember when they leave the cinema.

"The film awakens national pride, there are a lot of Chinese movie stars that we feel proud of. It raises our self respect," said student Zhang Kuo.

The film pushes some boundaries but takes care to portray Mao as jolly, gracious and generous.

Actor Tang Guo Qiang bears an uncanny physical resemblance, but there is not even a hint of the ruthless guerrilla warrior and political schemer who outmanoeuvred so many.

And the film ends conveniently with Mao's victory in 1949, allowing the filmmakers to avoid the bloodshed and horror of his later years.

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