Director: Peng Xiaolian (2006)
Sixty years ago, Shanghai was the Hollywood of China and home to its glamorous film stars – a place of romance and unrest. Inspired by the romance between Chinese legendary actor Zhao Dan (Angels in the Street) and his actress wife, Huang Zongying (Crow and the Sparrow), director Peng Xialian brings her personal imagination to bear on this nostalgic love tale set in the 1940s. Wan Yu is a young housewife, who, ignoring her family's opposition, takes a role in a movie. On set, she meets Ah Chuan, a famous actor who despite his reputation is a poor, single father of two children. However, once the shoot begins, the two fall in love. The audience are ultimately left to ponder the open ending of this drama-within-a-drama: The two leads embrace in the final shot of their film (and ours), but do they have the courage to break the bounds of traditional family values and continue their relationship in the real world?
Although it revolves around the love story of a real silver-screen couple, the movie also offers an insight into the lives of Chinese artists in Shanghai during this bygone era, demonstrating how they persisted in making progressive films in a society of limited freedoms. They did so with intelligence, optimism, determination, and a spirit of unity.
Shooting in her native Shanghai, director Peng Xiaolian successfully evokes the look and feel of old Shanghai, complete with seething rumba ballrooms, exquisite qipao, and cinemas full of people watching Hollywood movies. Furthermore, it is interesting to watch how China's senior moviemakers handled early cameras and projectors. Though the plot is relatively straightforward and lacks any deeper themes, the movie is nonetheless pleasant to watch, though one can't help but feel it's not one of Peng's strongest works.
(That's Beijing April 5, 2006)