With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ann Hui's THE GOLDEN ERA opens tomorrow in the U.S. and Canada

The Golden Era / Huang jin shi dai
Directed by Ann Hui
China/Hong Kong, 2014, 177 minutes

The Golden Era is an epic biography of Xiao Hong, one of China’s most famous essayists and novelists. Helmed by the renowned Hong Kong director Ann Hui, it will open tomorrow, Friday, October 17th in the United States and Canada. (It opened today, September 16th, in Australia and New Zealand.) For cities and theaters, click here.

Mainland Chinese actress Tang Wei (who had the lead role in Ang Lee's Lust Caution and in last year's hit Finding Mr. Right, which was also released by China Lion) stars as female novelist Xiao Hong, whose given name was Zhang Naiying. In a brief opening monologue, Hong tells us that she was born on June 1, 1911 in Manchuria and died on January 22, 1942 in a makeshift hospital in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong.

Details of her short, unconventional and rather unhappy life are frequently recounted by such narratives, sometimes spoken by her, sometimes by the people -- mainly literary figures and others from the world of publishing -- who knew her. Thus the film's dramatic narrative is frequently broken by brief scenes of "talking heads." The author's own writings are also quoted to illustrate what was happening to her during this turbulent period.

Xjao Jun (Feng Shaofeng), left, and Xiao Hong (Tamg Wei)

Feng Shaofeng (Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon ) co-stars as Xiao Jun, the writer with whom Hong had a long and troubled relationship. It was his family name that Hong used in her nom de plume.

Personally, at a nearly three hour running time, I found The Golden Era to be a bit overlong. Compare its length with Center Stage (1991), Stanley Kwan's biographical film about Ruan Ling-yu, the actress (played by Maggie Cheung) who killed herself in 1935 at the age of 24. Both Ruan and Hong were unconventional figures and victims of gossip, but Kwan's multi-award winning film is a conventional 126 minutes long. I never thought I'd say this, but The Golden Era is an Asian film that might actually have benefited from some cuts mandated by Harvey "Scissorhands" Weinstein.

On the other hand, it is highly respected in Hong Kong, which has chosen it as the autonomous region's official selection for consideration by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its Best Foreign Language category.

AsianCIneFest Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; highly recommended. Irregardless of its length, this film is well-worth seeing for its detailed depiction of a very talented woman whose free-thinking was most unconventional during the all-too-brief period of her life.

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