Among famous revolutionaries, besides Mao Zedong (毛泽东), perhaps Ernesto "Che" Guevara is the most recognizable historic figure as well as a pop culture icon. Around the world, many wear Che's image as a fashion statement without knowing Che's story, while many others are inspired by Che's bigger than life legacy and hold him dearly in their hearts as a hero.
Forty years after Che's death, Academy Award winning director Steven Soderbergh's two parts biopic "Che" brilliantly bring Che back to life. Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro's terrific portrait of Che won him the Best Actor Award at 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
Che was an Argentine physician who became involved in political movements fighting capitalism, neocolonialism, and imperialism which he believed to be the root of the poverty in Latin America. At the age of 27, Che met Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1954 and jointed a group called "26th of July Movement." The goal of the organization is to overthrow Cuba's Fulgencio Batista government by a guerrilla force.
On 26 November 1956, Che sailed to Cuba with Fidel Castro and other rebels. Eventually, he rose to a revolutionary hero in Cuban Revolution.
After the victory of Cuba Revolution in 1959, Che was proclaimed a "Cuban citizen by birth" and served as Industry Minister and the president of Cuban National Bank. He traveled around the world to as the spokesperson of socialist Cuba.
In 1965, Che suddenly disappeared from public eye without a trace. Fidel Castro revealed a letter from Che that declared his intention to leave the power and fame in Cuba and to help the fight in other country's revolution. Later, Che reemerged in Bolivia as a leader of an underground guerrilla group consists of Cuba comrades and Bolivian recruits. Che was captured and executed on 9 October 1967.
Director Steven Soderbergh's ambitious effort to bring Che's story to an epic on the big screen results in not only one, but two feature films: "Che: Part One" (USA 2008, 129 min.) tells Che's story during the Cuban Revolution; and "Che: Part Two" (USA 2008, 128 min.) focuses on Che's guerrilla campaign in Bolivia.
Although "Che: Part One" and "Che: Part Two" are two separate feature films, they will be presented together in a Special Roadshow Edition beginning on Friday, January 16, 2009 at Landmark's Embarcadero Theater for one week.
Che: Part One
"Che: Part One" (USA 2008, 129 min.) (also called "The Argentine," although I did not see this tile in the film) begins with the meeting where Che meets Castro for the first time in Mexico and chronicles the Cuba Revolution led by Castro and Che. Jumping in and out of their battles in Cuban's countryside, the film reenacts Che's visit to the Unite Nation in New York City during his tour around the world.
The film does a brilliant job to narrative the vast amount of materials and historic contents into a 129 minutes motion picture. A heroic, intelligent, brave, inspiring, charismatic, disciplined, and confident revolutionary vividly lives on the big screen through Benicio Del Toro's impeccable performance. The film is a tribute and celebration to Che's idealism, dedication, and sacrifice.
When Che was asked to identify the most important quality of a revolutionary, his answer is "Love." That explains why Che passionately fights for what he believes in, and nothing can deter his determination.
Like the speech Che gives at the podium of the the Unite Nation, shot beautifully in black and white, "Che: Part One" has an uplifting tone of victory and exhilaration. This is one of the best films I have seen in 2008.
Che: Part Two
"Che: Part Two" (USA 2008, 128 min.) is also called "Guerrilla," a title again I fail to find in the film. This film entirely focuses on Che's underground guerrilla war effort in Bolivia. Che wants to start a revolution in Bolivia and repeats the victory in Cuba.
After Che disappeared at his fame and power, he reemerges secretly in Bolivia to lead a guerrilla group. However, he does not have the support and alliance as during the Cuba Revolution. The film shows how he loses one battle after another one to the Bolivia Army. In the end, he is captured and executed.
The condition is horrendous in Bolivia mountains, yet Che's spirit and courage are never shaken. He continues to fight until his last breath for his idea and his belief.
"Che: Part Two" has a much different tone as "Che: Part One." The film seems showing nothing but how Che is defeated and how he is leading the guerrilla group on the run, instead of attacking. It is quite depressing.
It would be better if the film contained more historic background and more character development. Instead, the film tells the story like a documentary and follows the exhausted guerrilla fighters escaping from one ambush to another one. Besides Che, I can hardly tell Che's comrades apart, especially when they wear the same uniform and the same beard.
Perhaps I am so impressed by the Che's valorous figure in Part One that I reluctant to see him falling in Part Two.
Director Steven Soderbergh will appear in person for a Q&A on opening night, Friday, January 16, 2009 at the 7:30 show.