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Movie review: Confucius starring Chow Yun-Fat

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Confucius

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This is a portrayal of an often misunderstood Taoist Sage and Scholar: Kong Fu-tzu or Confucius. The movie is just over two hours in length, however, you will be so drawn into the scenery and storyline that you will be surprised when the movie is over. The movie is available on Netflix and Amazon.com.

The viewer should have at least some background knowledge regarding the life and teachings of Confucius in order to appreciate the often subtle yet important moments of the film. For instance, the meeting between Confucius and Lao Tzu, where Confucius addresses Lao Tzu as his Master and Teacher. Many people, especially in the West, portray Confucius and Lao Tzu as opposites and claim that the teachings of the two masters were at odds with each other. It is well known, however, that Confucius was a Taoist Scholar and Sage and spent most of his life studying the I-Ching (Classic of Change) and adding the very same commentaries/elucidations that are still used to this day. This will be discussed further in another article.

There are several great moments in this film; in the beginning of the film a child slave escaped being put to death and sealed in the tombs with all the other servants of the recently deceased leader. While running away from the guards, he is discovered by one of Confucius' top students who protects him and allows him to hide in the school/academy. During a meeting of the ministers and advisors, Confucius uses the meeting as a teaching moment for the government. The Prime Minister was discussing whether or not a sacrificial bird should be permitted to live since its feathers were not perfect, or should they condemn the bird to death to fulfill the sacrifice. The ministers all agree they should spare the bird's life and release it in the forest so it can have a long and happy life. At this moment Confucius motions for the child slave to come forward and the Prime Minister and General both recognize the child and immediately question Confucius as to why he is hiding the child and then begin to list all of the reasons why the child should die.

Confucius uses the example of the recently released bird as a reason why the boy should live; sometimes breaking an old custom is the best option or else we are trapped by those customs. Surely, the life of a child is worth more than the bird, how can you have the compassion to let the bird live and not the child? As the ministers begin to agree the general steps up and claims that the child should die, because it was the leaders wishes that all those whom he loved the most should die with him, and this slave was his favorite, therefore he must die. Confucius looks directly into the generals eyes and states: 'were you not very loved by him, and did you not live with and work him most of your life, in fact were you not his favorite and most loved General?' His response, 'of course I was', at which time, Confucius stated: 'then you will have to die as well to fulfill his wishes'. Of course, the general admits defeat and returns to his seat, the Prime Minister then announces the boy can live.

This was one of many examples in the movie, where Confucius using Taoist principles from the I-Ching and other Taoist classics was able to defeat an opponent and cause a situation to have an auspicious outcome without using force. One could say it was his intellect, others his keen wit, but in reality it was the principles on which he stood firm, that made this possible. Think of the story regarding Jesus and the Pharisees when they challenged his understanding of the Law of Moses regarding Adultery....Jesus' famous response was: 'let he who among you that is without sin, throw the first stone'.

It was a pleasure to see a movie take an honest (although not complete) look at one of the world's greatest Philosophers, Sages and Scholars. Perhaps, this will open more discussions and debate into the real Kong Fu-tzu and his Taoist teachings and understanding of the Tao of Man.

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