Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Weakness of Confucius

By Chip Tsao | published Feb 25, 2010

I’ve heard many great sayings and quotations by Confucius, like the much-caricatured three monkeys “see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil.” Or the notorious “both women and rogues are indomitable,” a phrase that, when you think about it, might raise an eyebrow from Audrey Eu, Regina Ip, et al.

When I worked as a builder during my college years in the UK, my dictionary of Confucius quotations was further enriched by a few helpful members of the English working class, usually in a pub, who told me they heard that Confucius would say more philosophical things, such as “seven days’ honeymoon make the whole week.”

But of all the things I’ve heard attributed to Confucius, I’ve never heard of the saying, “If you can’t change the world, you’d better change your thinking toward it.” Yet this is an utterance ascribed to the much-worshipped Old Master, as portrayed by the gray-bearded Chow Yun-fat, in the new propaganda film “Confucius,” which was sponsored and endorsed by the Central Government and presented across China during the Chinese New Year.

The timing of its distribution was designed to rival the 3D Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster “Avatar.” Cinemas in major cities across China were ordered to show the grand Old Master preaching his moral lectures to peasants, rather than the high-flying battles between US predators and blue aliens on the distant planet of Pandora.

But young audiences across the country have voted with their cinema tickets. James Cameron stomped Chow Yun-fat, even though the cinematic king of Hong Kong softened his image from rotten-faced Fu Manchurian arch-evil Asian pirate leching around the “Pirates of the Caribbean” into a fatherly philosopher with a smile even gentler than Chairman Mao’s.

To know what could drive an innocent moviegoer like me away from the film, we just need to understand the aforementioned, unheard-of Confucius saying that the moral theme of the movie hinges on.

If one assumes he can’t change the world, then there will be no drama. From “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to “Star Wars,” try to think of a single award-winning movie that is not about changing the world or fighting to change it. Even “Anna and the King,” where Chow Yun-fat plays the King of Siam opposite Jodie Foster, is all about changing values and the liberation of the human soul. Nobody would be interested in a drama where the lack of will for change is a prerequisite, as advocated by the dear master Confucius.

“If you can’t change the world, you’d better change your thinking toward it.” Perhaps substitute “the world” with “China” and the political message Confucius preaches to his people becomes clearer. But “Avatar” triumphed over “Confucius” because it’s a drama about oppressed aliens daring to pick up their bows and arrows and charge against invaders forced upon them from the sky—it’s not about them submitting. For a movie producer trying to make a hit, this is just common sense as simple as seven days’ worth of honeymooning making the whole week.

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