BioPic stars Wei Tang as Chinese writer Xiao Hong. Focusing on the turbulent 1930s, when left-wing intellectuals lived in the heightened exhilaration of internal upheaval & Japanese invasion, Xiao Hong somehow keeps publishing despite pregnancies & romantic complications. (JLH: 4/5)
Suggestion for non-Chinese audiences: Read about Xiao Hong on Wikipedia before you go!
Directed by Ann Hui. Screenplay by Qiang Li. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.
Who knew that in the midst of internal dissention between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, China produced at least two critically important feminist authors who made vital contributions to world literature? I certainly didn’t.
This was the great joy of watching Ann Hui’s new BioPic The Golden Era, starring Wei Tang as Chinese writer Xiao Hong in the turbulent 1930s. The relationship between “Xiao Hong” (Wei Tang) and her writer/mentor “Ding Lin” (Lei Hao)–while not the focus by any means-is critical to the success of the film. Xiao unfortunately had a short, feverish life, dying of Tuberculosis in 1942 while Hong Kong was under intense Japanese bombardment. Ding Lin–who lived a long life–was more politically active than Xiao, but less poetic. She was a commander of the Red Chinese Mao’s forces and spent time at the Iowa Writers Workshop in the late ‘80s.
At the beginning of the film, the main character Xiao Hong (played by actress Wei Tang) informs the audience of her premature death in the first person. Then she–along with various characters who speak about her in the third person–narrate a long, three-hour epic which follows the course of her life. This beautiful, poetic young woman from a wealthy family lost her mother when she was young and grew up under the control of an oppressive father. When he tried to marry her off, she ran away with her student boyfriend “Xiao Jun” (Shaofeng Feng) but continued to write even as she struggled through pregnancies and desertions. Although a majority of the film concerns her romantic life, Xiao also chronicles her time with her powerful [male] mentor “Lu Xun” (Zhiwen Wang).
The five main characters are Xiao Hong plus her lover Xiao Jun, her mentor Lu Xun, her husband “Duanmu Hongliang” (Yawen Zhu), and her friend Ding Lin. For an American audience, it’s difficult to watch when you aren’t familiar with the people and you are trying to sort out the story and the characters at the same time. I enjoy long BioPics, stemming from my love of Academy Award-winning films like Lawrence of Arabia staring Peter O’Toole, and Reds starring Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton. So although The Golden Era was disconcerting at times, it drew me in and made me want to read Xiao Hong’s books.
Ann Hui’s previous film A Simple Life was a small, intimate drama whereas The Golden Era is an epic about the artistic and intellectual fervor of mid-1930s China. It was evident that Hui didn’t have the budget to do what she really wanted or needed to do. Where Reds had big, elaborate scenes with hundreds of people marching on the Winter Palace and crossing Central Asia, Ann Hui chose not to do that for this film. For example, during one scene where Xiao Hong is pregnant and trying to catch a ferry out of Hong Kong, she stumbles, falls, and passes out. But instead seeing of thousands–if not millions–of desperate people around her, all you see is Xiao Hong–alone–on the dock. I don’t know if it was a decision on the director’s part to keep us focused on her central character or if she just didn’t have the budget to do what she really should have done for the sake of historical accuracy.
Nevertheless, with gorgeous, talented Wei Tang as her anchor, Hui glued me to my seat. Going into the film with little prior knowledge of the content, I was somewhat disoriented by the effort of figuring everything out on the fly, but still fascinated. The Golden Era may be a bit hard to watch, but it is definitely worthwhile.
Top Photo: Wei Tang stars as Chinese writer “Xiao Hong.”
Bottom Photo: Comrades in the fight against the Japanese.
Although most of the personal story concerns Xiao Hong’s relationships with men, there are critical scenes with other women, most especially with Lei Hao as “Ding Lin.”
The Golden Era received 5 nominations for Taiwan’s 2014 Golden Horse Film Festival: Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Wei Tang) & Best Supporting Actress (Lei Hao). So I’m not the only one who found their bond critical!