Director: Stanley Kwan (1992)
Previously known as The Actress or New China Woman, this masterpiece commentary and award winning production has now received a long-awaited legit DVD treatment under the Center Stage moniker.
Featuring one of the world's most versatile actresses, Maggie Cheung, Center Stage helped affirm her status as screen diva thanks to a genuinely captivating performance that landed her a Silver Bear. Prior better known for Police Story and numerous love comedies, Maggie became a force to be reckoned with in her roles in wuxia classics such as Dragon Inn and Ashes of Time, as well as several drama giants (In the Mood for Love). Truly the film's focal point, Cheung ventures far above and beyond the call of duty for depicting one of China's first big screen female icons, Ruan Lingyu (aka Yuen Ling-Yuk).
Center Stage's beauty lies also in adept directing by Stanley Kwan. It fluently comprises several movies in one: a documentary about Ruan, excerpts from her original silent movies, a drama retelling her life and perfect adaptations of said excerpts by the 1992 cast.
With so much going on anyone would rightly expect a mess, but instead we are endowed with a film of near heavenly qualities.
Ruan Lingyu rose to fame in Shanghai's bustling film industry during the late 1920's and early 30's. Surrounded by a small army of friends and lovers, the easy-going yet strong lady soon encountered celebrity's darker side via hostile media and even a corrupt boyfriend (Lawrence Ng). Despite unprecedented success and fortune, Ruan's savvy humanistic nature couldn't prevent her tragic downfall. In fact, coupled with a glittering existence, her strength served to hide internal anguish from family and best friends Lily Li (Carina Lau) and Lin Chu Chu (Cecilia Yip). Ruan committed suicide before her 25th birthday.
Center Stage also sheds much light on its target period, showing how the nation's movie industry grew originally and was forced to struggle with politics following Japan's military invasion. All in all, everything about it was done meticulously without fail.
It was even produced by Jackie Chan, yes the one from Rush Hour and Who Am I? Go figure.
(cityweekend.com.cn February 19, 2004)