Monday, February 27, 2006

Film Centre Stage (Yuen Ling-yuk; Stanley Kwan, 1992)

Tonight I saw a "biopic" (biographical film), shown by the Duke University Screen Society as part of their Cine-East 7: New East Asian Cinema and Documentary tracks.

You can read my imdb review, which I'll also copy here:

Summary: 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 (, "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

Montage of pictures of Chinese silent film star Ruan Ling-yu
From the Screen Society website:

Centre Stage is an ambitiously unorthodox biopic from director Stanley Kwan about Chinese silent film star Ruan Ling-yu. Despite her humble origins, Ling-yu ended up as one of the most famous stars of Shanghai cinema during the 30s, specializing in tragic female roles in the likes of The Goddess and New Woman. Yet having completed some 29 films by the age of just 25, she committed suicide after being villified in the tabloid press for her affair with a married man, Chang Ta-min. Maggie Cheung (so memorable in Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love) provides a superlative central performance, winning her the Best Actress Silver Bear Prize at Berlin in 1992.

Focusing only on the years leading up to Ruan's untimely death, Centre Stage doesn't pursue a simple linear path. Shifting backwards and forwards in time, it consists of colour reconstructions of events in its protagonist's life, black and white footage from her films, as well as monochrome interviews with surviving veterans and with Kwan and his cast members, who ponder their own feeling towards their subject. ("Isn't she just a replica of me?", laughs Cheung.) One of the cumulative effects of this mixing of formats and styles is that the film moves away from the idea of a definitive truth about Ruan, and instead allows a range of perspectives on her experiences. -- Tom Dawson, BBC

Links of interest:

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Play A Map of the World (David Hare, 1983; produced by Burning Coal Theatre Company)

I was late and missed much of the first half, but otherwise reasonably enjoyed David Hare's A Map of the World that Burning Coal Theatre Company put on at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, NC, directed by Roger Smart. The play included a Hamlet-like play (well, in this case, film) within a play. The acting was strong and, though I couldn't follow all of the complexities, the story was interesting.

From the theatre's website:
When Indian-born, internationally acclaimed novelist Victor Mehta is invited to speak at a UNESCO-style conference on world hunger in 1977, all hell breaks loose! Many of those in attendance don't want the conservative novelist to speak. Into this mix walks a young, wet-behind-the-ears British journalist and a rising Hollywood starlet. Each will play a decisive role in Mehta's final decision.


  • February 15 Independent Weekly by Byron Woods
  • February 27 by Adam Sobsey in the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper
  • Review I heard by Mike Munger of WUNC Radio's The State of Things program on February 22

Picture from theatre's website of Gabrieal Griego as Peggy Whitton and Neil Shah as Victor Mehta

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Film Dust in the Wind (Lianlian fengchen; Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1986)

Tonight, I saw the Taiwanese film, Dust in the Wind, shown by the Duke University Screen Society. I teach a course on the films of the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, and was interested in seeing this film as I had read that it is reminiscent of the understated style of Ozu's.

I found Dust in the Wind to be somewhat slow, detached, and not as emotionally powerful as Ozu's films, but worth watching as a glimpse of local color into (I think) 1950s or early 1960s rural Taiwanese culture. The character development was somewhat shallow, I didn't understand how some of the scenes contributed, but I found the scenery, cinematography, and editing appealing.

From the Screen Society website:

Combining the neorealism of Vittorio de Sica and the simple, contemplative style of Yasujiro Ozu, this quiet, unsentimental film realistically portrays a country and people in transition. Filled with grace, beauty, bittersweet humor, and strong performances from unprofessional actors, it is an engaging exploration of love, innocence, and the harsh realities of modern life.
Wan and Huen are a teenaged couple who quit their jobs in their small mining town and move to Taipei to find work. Wan becomes a delivery boy while Huen assists a seamstress. The two seem ill at ease with their new surroundings, and in an overcrowded city where people outnumber available jobs, they find that city life is bleak, especially for people who are uneducated and inexperienced. Dust in the Wind is filled with vignettes depicting the struggles as well as the savored moments of everyday life in Taiwan. The film never romanticizes though it is filled with beauty, even of the ugly sort.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

UNC International Friendship Program event at Ackland Art Museum

For years, I have been a host with The University of North Carolina Office of International Student and Scholar Services's International Friendship Program. It allows me the privilege to get to know scholars from many countries, such as Korea, Japan, India, China, Hungary, Australia, and Thailand. They don't stay at my home, but I try to meet them as often as possible to have a meal or go out for some fun event.

Today the Program organized a Treasures from Around the World event at the Ackland Art Museum. After picking up a very nice Chinese couple that I have been hosting since the fall, Zheng and Xiaofang, we enjoyed some refreshments and a talk about the collection, then got to see the museum on our own.

I took a number of pictures which I hope to post soon. It is a small but nice museum with a focus on European, Chinese, and Indian art.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My winning picture in an exhibit at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences

I was delighted that of three pictures that I submitted last year to an annual photo contest that Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine runs, I was told on November 16 that I won second prize in one of the eight categories! There were over 3300 entries and more than 600 photographers entered the contest. The Peaks, Valleys, & Plains category in which I won had 544 entries. You can see all of the 2005 winners; look a little over halfway down to see my shot. (You can also see the pictures as laid out for the January issue of the magazine.)

The picture was taken on a warm Sunday afternoon, October 24, 2004 (4:09pm) at Price Lake off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, NC. I hope that viewers will initially think that it is a shot looking straight out toward a mountain. In fact, I was standing on a large rock, and took the shot looking straight down at the rock and the lovely reflection I saw of the sky in the lake.

All of the thirty-one winning pictures are on display through March 31 at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. I went today to see the exhibit. After this stay in Raleigh, the display will travel to other state museums through the rest of the year.

My second prize winning picture, Price Lake (near Blowing Rock, NC), October 24, 2004

Friday, February 10, 2006

Film The Battle of Algiers (La Battaglia di Algeri; Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)

As part of the Winter 2006 Film Series at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, I saw a new 35mm print of the classic The Battle of Algiers. It is a film I've been wanting to see and this was my first opportunity. This neorealistic film is shot in documentary style with mostly everyday people instead of actors, and depicts the decade leading up to Algeria's independence from France after more than 130 years.

The film is a powerful portrayal of the savagery of urban warfare and the means, including torture and bombing of civilian establishments, that colonialists as well as those seeking their independence use to achieve what each is convinced is justified for their ends. The scenes of the narrow streets of the Kasbah and the determination of both sides kept the film interesting, made all the more so because it is a dramatized documentary.

The film revealed my ignorance about Algerian history, and I left wondering what kind of government the country now has. I did a little bit of research and found that its post-colonial history is not a happy one, marked by the mass exodus of over a million people during a civil war and the establishment of military rule.

Links of interest:

Map from

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Film Tokyo Godfathers (Satoshi Kon, 2003)

I saw this Japanese anime film about three homeless people in Tokyo, a runaway young woman, a transvestite, and a drunkard, who find an abandoned baby. This film is their adventure of trying to find the parents. It is a modern retelling, albeit without the strong religious allegory, of the classic John Wayne film, John Ford's 1948 Three Godfathers, with outlaw cowboys pledging to a dying woman that they will rescue her baby. I enjoyed it, but my favorite anime continues to be Hayao Miyazaki's 2001 film Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi )

Links of interest:

  • imdb (Internet Movie Database) film entry
  • Tokyo Godfathers official film website
  • Wikipedia entry about anime, a Japanese animation style often directly influenced by "manga" comic strips

Monday, February 06, 2006

Films Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (Isaac Julien, 1996) and The White Balloon (Badkonake sefid; Jafar Panahi, 1995)

Promotional image of 'Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask'

As part of the Duke University Screen Society Isaac Julien retrospective, on Monday night I saw the 1991 documentary film Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask. I didn't know about Frantz Fanon (1925–1961) was, but I learned that he is considered one of the key figures in analyzing the psychology of colonialism and the fight to achieve freedom from imperialism. The film, especially the first half, discusses from a largely academic perspective the notions of racism and post-colonialism, especially as applied to France. The second half describes how this Carribean-born French psychiatrist moves to Algeria to practice and then to inspire the freedom movement, embracing violence as an acceptable means.

From the Screen Society website: "Interviews, reconstructions and archive footage tell the story of the life and work of the highly influential anti-colonialist writer Franz Fanon, author of Black Skin, White Mask and The Wretched of the Earth, and his professional life as a psychiatric doctor in Algeria during its war of independence with France. Introduced by Profs. Ranjana Khanna (Depts. of English, Literature, and Women's Studies) and Maurice Wallace (Depts. of English and African & African American Studies)"

Main character of 'The White Balloon' holding aloft a goldfish
I also finished watching on videotape the Iranian film, The White Balloon. Written by perhaps the best known Iranian filmmaker, producer, and writer, Abbas Kiarostami, and directed by his student Jafar Panahi, this was a sweet film taking place on New Year's Eve in Tehran. Seven-year-old Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani) has her heart set on purchasing a goldfish. After much nagging, her mother reluctantly gives her money. Razieh ends up with adventures with Sufi snakecharmers, a clothes merchant, a soldier, and an Afghan boy selling balloons, unfortunately losing her money down a grating along the way. The film gives a fun, unhurried, dose of local color in an endearing, realistic story.

There was a conflict for another film sounding well-worth seeing, coincident at Duke tonight, I Fight with my Camera. Civil rights photographer Charles Moore was to have appeared at the screening of the 27-minute film about his photography for Life Magazine, and was to have taken part in a panel discussion, along with filmmaker Dan Love.

Links of interest:

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Parlor concerts and two special events coming up worth considering in nearby Hillsborough, NC

  • February 19 and March 26 Hillsborough Arts Council parlor concerts in private historic homes (4p @ $15, including following reception)

  • February 24 Winter Friday Mardi Gras - from the Historic Hillsborough website: "Hillsborough will look more like the French Quarter of New Orleans on the Winter Friday before Fat Tuesday. Well, almost. The evening-long event will kick off at 7:00 p.m. with a parade. Buy a button that will get you into the Masonic Lodge for a Mardi Gras Ball at 7:30 p.m., which will include music, a costume contest, and free chicory coffee and beignets. Local restaurants and bars will participate in the festivities. This event will serve as a fundraiser for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Start working on your costume today! Advance tickets: $20 adult, $10 child under 12. Tickets at the door: $25 adult, $12 child under 12. Advance tickets can be purchased at Callaway Jewelry/Spiral Studios (115 North Churton Street, 919‑732‑2013). Present your ticket to Callaway Jewelry/Spiral Studios to receive your button."

  • February 25 Revolutionary War Living History Day, 10a-4p, grounds of the circa 1790 Alexander Dickson House; from the Historic Hillsborough website: "British and Continental reenactors will demonstrate camp life during the Revolutionary War. This year’s event commemorates the 225th anniversary of General Cornwallis’ encampment in Hillsborough in February 1781. Events include marching drills, musket-firing demonstrations, open-flame cooking, and guided tours of Hillsborough’s colonial and Revolutionary sites. More information available toll-free at 877-732-7748 or 919-732-7741."

Several upcoming theater performances worth considering

I hope to attend these performances:

  • The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen, Man Bites Dog Theater, Durham, NC. From the theater's website: "Devised and adapted by Greg Allen, Directed by Joseph Megel. A whirlwind tour of the climaxes of all 26 Ibsen plays, ranging from the sublime (A Doll's House) to the ridiculous (The Vikings of Helgeland)." February 2-19; Th-Sa 8:15p, Su 3:15p, post-show discussion Feb. 5; $15 except $10 Th

  • David Hare's A Map of the World, Burning Coal Theatre Company, Raleigh, NC. From the theatre's website: "When Indian-born, internationally acclaimed novelist Victor Mehta is invited to speak at a UNESCO-style conference on world hunger in 1977, all hell breaks loose! Many of those in attendance don't want the conservative novelist to speak. Into this mix walks a young, wet-behind-the-ears British journalist and a rising Hollywood starlet. Each will play a decisive role in Mehta's final decision." Feb. 9-26; Su 2p, W-Sa 7:30p, $16 except Su Feb. 12 2p pay what you can.

  • Love and Marriage, Common Woman Chorus (CWC) and sponsored by the Social Action Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, Raleigh, NC. From the CWC website: "The story is timeless--girl meets girl, yada yada yada . . . Cafe Venus is the hangout, love is in the air and the music is groovin'. Feel the electricity. Embrace the moment. Share our vision for equality." February 11 8p, $15 ($12 advance). Reception including dancing follows ($5 suggested donation).

  • Wit, Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh, NC. From the theatre's website: "At the start of Wit, Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., a renowned professor of English who has spent years studying and teaching the brilliantly difficult Holy Sonnets of the metaphysical poet John Donne, has been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. During the course of her illness -- and her stint as a prize patient in an experimental chemotherapy program at a major teaching hospital -- Vivian comes to reassess her life and her work with a profundity and humor that are transformative both for her and for the audience. Mature subject matter. Not suitable for children." Feb. 10-26, Th ($15), F ($18), Sa ($20) 8p; Su matinees 3p ($15 except $10 Feb. 12).

  • Run for your Wife, North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre, Raleigh, NC. From the theatre's website: "... an ingenious British farce that is sure to make you laugh until you cry. This hysterical comedy zooms in on the life of John Smith, a London cab driver who has been successfully living two different lives with two separate wives … until they suddenly collide. After trying to rescue an old lady from two muggers, John ends up in the hospital with a head injury, two worried wives, two policemen on his tail, two eccentric neighbors, and one nosy news reporter. John’s well-orchestrated double life spins out of control and he will do and say ANYTHING for his secret to stay hidden. Written by the 'Master of Farce', this Ray Cooney original had a show run of almost nine years, making it one of the longest running plays in the West End. So, forget the tele for a night and come experience this smash hit from across the pond!" Feb. 10-26, FSa 8p ($12), Su 3p ($8).

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Films Rang de Basanti (Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, 2006) and The Constant Gardener (Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, 2005)

Tonight, along with my parents as part of celebrating their wedding anniversary, I saw Rang de Basanti, just released a few weeks ago. I normally don't like "Bollywood" films, but the reviews for this one sounded good. I enjoyed it, though the first half drags a bit. There was one song, played twice including at the end with closing credits, Roobaroo by A. R. Rahman and Naresh Iyer, that I quite liked. I enjoyed the theme of late 1920s revolutionaries
Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad fighting for India's independence, and how that story was weaved into a modern filming of a documentary about that story.

Last night at a friend's house, I saw on DVD The Constant Gardener, a political thriller based on a novel by John le Carré. I am not accustomed to watching such films, but found this one to be quite captivating. It tells a (hopefully totally fictitious!) story about greed and unbelievable insensitivity driving a western pharmaceutical company to test its drugs on an unsuspecting population of poor Kenyans.

Links of interest:

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Film Welcome to Dongmakgol (Park Kwang-Hyun, 2005)

I saw an excellent film, 9.5 on a scale of 10! Shown as part of the Cine-East 7: New East Asian Cinema series of contemporary films from China, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan of the Duke University Screen Society, Welcome to Dongmakgol was a beautifully shot, sometimes surrealistic, film showing the common sense of peace.

Film's description from Duke's Asian/Pacific Studies Institute:

Discover the magic of Dongmakgol! Filmmaker Park Kwang-hyun makes a stunning directorial debut with "Welcome To Dongmakgol," a touching tale of war and peace!During the Korean War, a platoon of North Korean soldiers are attacked with only Commander Lee, Private Jang and kid soldier Taek Ki surviving the carnage. After meeting a beautiful young girl named Yeo Il, the soldiers follow her back to her village, an Eden-like place known as Dongmakgol.

In this town that time forgot, the locals carry on with their lives, completely oblivious to the fact that the Korean War has been raging on for the last couple of years. Due to their ignorance of the political situation, the villagers see nothing wrong with welcoming two South Korean soldiers, Lieutenant Pyo and a cowardly medic. Adding an international flavor to the mix is Captain Smith, an American pilot forced to make an emergency landing in the mythical Dongmakgol. After an intense confrontation that causes the destruction of the village's prized warehouse, the bitter rivals decide to put their differences aside for the time being, until they can help make up for the loss.

Although initially confused by the villagers attitudes toward life, the soldiers soon realize that they have found a paradise, a safe haven from the world of guns, bombs, and tanks. By interacting with these plain-spoken rural folks, the soldiers' ideas of patriotism and war slowly get subverted, as they embrace the more peaceful outlook demonstrated by the inhabitants of Dongmakgol. But with the death and destruction of the outside world soon encroaching on the peaceful village of Dongmakgol, can these bitter enemies band together to protect the people that have given them a second chance at life? Based on the play by Jang Jin and featuring a wonderful score by Joe Hisaishi, "Welcome To Dongmakgol" is a heartwarming, deeply moving motion picture, full of unforgettable imagery and heartfelt sentiment!

Links of interest: