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Period piece of 1930s Shanghai depicting the life of famous silent actor Ruan Ling-yu and her untimely end; slow beginning but worth seeing and relishing
I saw Stanley Kwan's "Centre Stage" ("Yuen Ling-yuk") at a university series "New East Asian Cinema" on February 27, 2006. The film is a biography of Ruan Ling-yu (1910-1935), a silent film star of Chinese silent films.
The film describes the life and meteoric rise to fame of young Shanghai actor Ruan Ling-yu (played well by Maggie Cheung), who from the age of 16 till her death at age 24, was featured, often in a lead role, in over a dozen films. She was involved in extramarital affairs with two men and eventually the double standards that women suffer by catch up with her (but not with the married suitors), and dogged media slander her reputation. With her honor at stake, she sees no recourse but to commit suicide, and does so with an overdose of barbiturates. According to the wikipedia entry about her (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruan_Ling_Yu), "her funeral procession was reportedly three miles long, with three women committing suicide during it."
The film cleverly goes back and forth in time, and includes excellent interludes from some of Ruan Ling-yu's films. These snippets, as well as the local color we see in 1930s Shanghai, reveal a vivacious setting in Chinese history that I would enjoy learning more about, including seeing some of the period cinema.
Not previously knowing anything about Ruan Ling-yu, I of course cannot vouch for the realism of the portrayal, but the acting of Maggie Cheung revealed a strong, magnetic, kind, talented, determined, and yet slightly aloof woman who enjoys many admirers. The other characters were not nearly as well developed, but that is understandable with the focus being on Ruan Ling-yu.
I wonder if Kwan could have set the stage, so to speak, a bit more economically, and found the first half to two thirds rather slow. But, without giving anything away, the ending (of course we know that suicide is the true history) is calmly dramatic and captivating. The manner in which Cheung shows the actor saying goodbye to her close friends, who don't know that this is in fact her farewell, is touching - I wonder if this is how it happened. A film worth watching and which I would like to see again - 7.5 stars out of 10.
--Dilip Feb. 27, 2006
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