24 December 2015 | kluseba
Unintentionally revealing social science study of a struggling society in a country without common identity and values
"Twelve Citizens" is the Chinese version of Reginald Rose's legendary drama "Twelve Angry Men" from 1954. Instead of reinventing the content to assimilate it to China's contemporary culture, law system and society, the movie is almost an exact copy of the original masterpiece. The only important difference is that this movie shows us a fake trial inspired by the American law system held by parents of law school students who have worked on a case where a son is supposed to have killed his father and found him guilty. The parents have to debate whether the students did a good job and pass their exam. This means that the initial tension of the original where a man's life was at stake is completely missing in this movie. Another part that changed is that in this film, a rich boy living in the city killed his poor father in the countryside. Since China still has a restrictive communist government, rich young men are the same kind of outsiders that criminal slum kids were sixty years earlier in the United States of America. This speaks volumes for the contemporary conditions in this country but instead of honestly criticizing, exposing and solving these problems, the movie rejects the American law system and the ideology of democracy.
This modern movie has almost nothing of the outstanding settings of the original movie with Herny Fonda among others. Even though most of this movie is also shot in one room, it's a very large one where people can walk around and away from each other at any time instead of a small jury room where tensions arise rather quickly. The heat is not as extreme as in the tense original film. Even though there are weather changes in this movie, they aren't very present and don't serve as guiding line to the story. The clever camera angles of the original are almost completely absent in this film since the cameras rarely film from above in the beginning and there aren't many close-ups either towards the end. The soundtrack is even more limited than the original and not memorable at all. At certain points, this movie feels as if it had been directed by some overambitious law school students and unexperienced movie fans that didn't exactly understand why the original version worked so brilliantly and still does until today.
Despite being a copy of a great script that comes six decades too late, the movie is still enjoyable because the story is almost timeless and the original drama has an incredibly strong character development and perfect dialogues. The Chinese actors aren't as perfect but they are really solid and their performances are clearly better than many other television remakes of the original. Some characters have slightly different background stories if compared to the original which adds at least a handful of interesting new elements. We get to know an old man whose family got wrongfully criticized by an entire village due to Mao Zedong's failed reforms, a bitter, conservative and poor iceman who despises an entire Generation and a rational communist state prosecutor who obviously plays the protagonist of the story. This little detail is only revealed in the very last scene of the movie and that's why it's so important.
This propaganda movie basically spreads three messages. First of all, the American law system is flawed and can't work in the People's Republic of China. Second, China's law system is better and the men and women who represent it are fair, impartial and modern. Third, China still has to move forward and deal with the demons of its own past, notably the impacts of Mao Zedong's reforms and the prejudices it spread and that still persist. The movie also tries to show more or less that contemporary young millionaires without any identity deserve as much respect as working men who have built an entire nation which is acceptable for this particular courtroom drama but debatable as a general statement.
This movie unintentionally exposes China's heart and soul to the viewers and shows a generation caught between a restrictive system with obsolete values of the past and an egocentric globalized world where it's challenging to find your own place. It portrays a society without any common identity, values and virtues. From that point of view and if you read between the lines and go beyond the plot itself, this movie has a certain interest and almost feels like a social science study while the story itself is simply stated a cheap ripoff. The analysis of this flawed propagandistic perspective is what makes this movie much more interesting than anything else and the main reason for my generous Rating. This movie made me explore the past and contemporary struggles of a directionless yet fascinating country.