Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Golden Era

So, I'm not sure what China Lion is doing differently now - or if they're not doing anything different, but Regal is doing a different sort of promotion than AMC in places where I can't see it - but this is the second opening night of one of their films in a row that extra shows were put on last-minute because the screens were packed; the room was already pretty well-populated when I got there ten minutes before showtime, and folks just kept showing up until about twenty minutes into the movie (probably figuring on the usual twenty-minute preview package, but Regal apparently doesn't do that on three-hour foreign movies when they don't have the next preview of a movie from that country they may run handy). Probably 150 people for the screening, which breaks down to roughly 149 college students of Chinese ancestry and me.

Kind of interesting, because I don't know that the movies China Lion has success with are things I'd normally think of as college-kid movies. This is a three-hour biography of a writer active in the 1930s in a fairly unhealthy relationship, which doesn't necessarily scream "date movie" to me, although I have never been at college on the other side of the planet in a country where movies in my native never play theatrically. I think it's a bit of a younger crowd than used to show up when these movies were playing Boston Common, which makes me wonder if it's a matter of playing less intuitive demographics: I always assumed that the Boston Common theater, being right next to Chinatown, would be the ideal spot for these movies to open, but I wonder if Fenway is actually better for attracting all the Chinese and Chinese-American college kids - do the students living in Allston consider that their local theater? Or is it just a matter of China Lion's deal with AMC (which was frustratingly reluctant to book/promote these movies in Boston) running out and them shifting who they target at roughly the same time?

I've got no idea, still, but I must admit that it continues to fascinate me, if only because I want to see these movies here and it's starting to look kind of viable. I've been giving my fellow Chlotrudis members (hopefully) friendly reminders that the new movie by the director of A Simple Life, which won their signature "Buried Treasure" award a couple years ago, is playing in theaters, and I think it's kid of amazing that there's a pretty good chance that The Golden Era, despite seeming like a much niche-ier picture, will probably make too much money to qualify for that one.

Which is good. If quick American releases of Chinese romances by well-regarded directors are making money, then that means my chances of being able to see Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 in theaters next month is pretty good.

Huang jin shi dai (The Golden Era)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #11 (first-run, DCP)

Most of the descriptions of Xiao Hong biography The Golden Era spend some time talking about what made her remarkable as a writer, and the film does give those of us not terribly familiar with 1930s Chinese literature a bit of a taste of her words and why they are remembered despite her short career and life. But while the focus is less on what she created and more on how what she wanted - a "quiet place to write" - was elusive, the way in which screenwriter Li Qiang and director Ann Hui tell the story is often what will be the most striking.

Xiao Hong (Tang Wei) was born Zhang Naiying on 2 June 1911, in Manchuria, and as we're informed right away, she died on 22 January 1942 in Hong Kong. The film spends little time on her childhood, aside from an excerpt from her writing that described her grandfather as the most encouraging part of it, though it was her early adulthood that seemed most disastrous: Having run away to escape an arranged marriage, she returned home in disgrace, eventually pregnant and held prisoner for debts in the city of Harbin until she connects with the local literary magazine. That's when she meets Sun Lang (Feng Shaofeng), pen name "Xiao Jun", who would become her partner in literature and life. It would not be an easy partnership, though - while both were part of the Shanghai literary circle of legendary writer Lu Xun (Wang Zhiwen), Xiao Jun was more drawn to political activism in the nascent Communist Party than Xiao Hong during a very turbulent period in Chinese history, to say nothing of the other woman.

One of the first shots of the film is a black and white image of Xiao Hong relating the time and place of her birth and death, and it's an interesting choice, if it does initially seem a bit conventionally unconventional. Soon other voices are added, and while having Xiao Hong narrate her life story would have perhaps have given the film a false sense of omniscience, Li and Hui instead quickly move to establish just how limited what people know can be: Xiao Jun points out that there were no pictures of some members of his family, leaving them as unknown, and narration points out that not only did the man to whom Xiao Hong was betrothed disappear, but so did his entire family; finding out more about this chapter of her life is a dead end.

Full review at EFC.

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