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Road to Dawn
Chinese: 夜.明 Road to Dawn (2007)
Winston Chao is Sun Yat-Sen in Road to Dawn.
Director: Derek Chiu Sung-Kei
Producer: Cheung Kaiping, Liao Shuhui, Song Lequn
Writer: Meazi
Cast: Winston Chao, Angelica Lee Sum-Kit, Wu Yue, Zhao Zheng, Wang Jiancheng, Vicky Liu, Liu Yan, Duan Qiuxu, You Hang, Wen Guangyu, Terrence Fok, Chong Waihoong, Dr. Paul Woods, Himanshu Bhatt, Zhang Yudong, Chew Sengtung, Dato'Fong Chokgin, Wu Jiahui
The Skinny: Smaller story about the Father of China, Sun Yat-Sen. While not as grand or self-important as its patriotic film cousins, Road to Dawn may be more watchable thanks to its focus on Sun the man and not the icon. Not essential but still worth a look.
by Kozo:

If the recent spate of movies featuring Sun Yat-Sen havenít satiated your Sun Yat-Sen needs, then you can always dig up Road to Dawn, a 2007 film from director Derek Chiu (The Road Less Travelled, The 72 Martyrs). Unlike 1911 or Beginning of the Great Revival, Road to Dawn is not an epic drama, and instead tells a smaller story set in 1910, when Sun was in exile with a large bounty placed on his head by the Qing monarchy. After a series of failed uprisings, Dr. Sun (Winston Chao) travels to Malaysia to hide out from the Qing authorities, while also looking to raise funds for his continuing revolution. One his way to Penang, Sun meets schoolteacher Luo Zhaolin (Zhao Zheng), and the two begin a friendly, sometimes adversarial relationship.

Zhaolin is engaged to Xu Danrong (Angelica Lee), the daughter of opium kingpin Xu Boheng (Wang Jiancheng), whoís one of Sunís prime targets for a large donation to his revolution. Sun has both supporters and detractors among the Chinese Diaspora, and Xu Boheng isnít convinced that he wants to be counted among the former. However, Danrong becomes a true-blue Sun Yat-Sen flag-waver. A feisty high-schooler just maturing into womanhood, Danrong is touched by Sunís dedication and strives to help him as much as he can. This creates conflict between Danrong and her father, and also between she and Zhaolin, who also gains a romantic rival for Danrong in the son of a British businessman. Meanwhile, Sun Yat-Senís mistress Chen Cuifen (Wu Yue) arrives to stand by her man, and someone that Sun knows may be trying to kill him. Hey, isnít someone always?

Unlike other films featuring Sun Yat-Sen assailants, at no time in Road to Dawn does anyone whip out their flying kung-fu or melon-throwing skills to save Sunís life. The assassination plot is really only the B-plot here, though it does inform the film's climax, where Sun braves possible death in order to deliver yet another persuasive speech, thereby stirring the nationalist pride of the Chinese and gaining some extra money for the revolutionary coffers. Despite the multitude of plots and subplots, Road to Dawn is easy to follow, and when it resorts to thriller tropes it still convinces, though not to a level that would classify this as an exciting motion picture. Thatís fine; aside from the history lessons, Road to Dawn is a human drama that largely avoids bombast, unlike the many patriotic films released afterwards also featuring Sun.

Also, any nationalism that comes with Sun Yat-Senís fund raising and speech making is never that pronounced, with the focus film mainly on characters and in particular two relationships. One relationship, between Danrong and Zhaolin, is a fictional creation, and proves only moderately engaging. Despite being far too old for her role, Angelica Lee is strong and feisty, though her partner Zhao Zheng only occasionally impresses. Little spark exists between the two, so their story never really takes flight. However, the other relationship between Sun Yat-Sen and Chen Cuifen is a compelling and also subtle one, and helps to flesh out Sun Yat-Sen as more than just a revered rabble-rouser. No stranger to the role, Winston Chao is charming and comfortable as Sun Yat-Sen, but Wu Yue may give the stronger performance as Chen Cuifen. If the filmmakers intend to portray the uneducated Cuifen as a pillar of strength for the embattled Sun, they and Wu Yue do a fine job of convincing.

Road to Dawn is notable because it gives a human component to Sun Yat-Sen, making him into more of a man than an icon Ė though this portrayal flatters him, too. Chen Cuifen is his mistress, but the issue is glossed over, and Sunís other loves are never referenced. Also, there are some exaggerated moments; Sun pulls a gun on a British businessman to make a point, but the script can't convince that the moment is anything more than screenwriter-manufactured grandstanding. Likewise, the climactic speech only works because it's crosscut with an assassination attempt, and not because the speech or Chao's acting are enough to dazzle. At over two hours the film is a bit of a long haul, but the pacing and tone remain consistent. Derek Chiu has always been a competent and unspectacular director, and that's what Road to Dawn is: competent and unspectacular. It's not essential viewing, but as a companion piece to its grander patriotic cousins, it's worth a look. (Kozo, 2011)

Notes: • Winston Chao also played Sun Yat-Sen in The Soong Sisters (1997) and 1911 (2011). Director Derek Chiu's 72 Martyrs (2011) takes place historically right after Road to Dawn and chronicles the Huanghuagang Uprising that was a direct result of Sun Yat-Sen's efforts in Penang, Malaysia.
• The Hong Kong DVD from Kam & Ronson is simply awful looking. Possibly mastered from a print found at the bottom of Victoria Harbour.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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