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Chinese Movie Database Blog » Blog Archive » Centre Stage and Chinese cinema
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Ruan LingyuI want to praise Edinburgh’s Cinema China 07’s organisers to choose Centre Stage (a.k.a. The Actress) as the opening film. Not only this gives them a good reason to invite Maggie Cheung, of whom I am a fan, to come to the festival, but also this is a fitting opening for a festival that celebrates a century of Chinese cinema.

I first watched this film more than ten years ago in Hong Kong. At that time I was already interested in the history of Chinese cinema and had begin working on my project Chinese Movie Database. The impact of this film on me, looking back now, was that it made me realise that the early (1930s) Chinese films could be attractive and sexy. The beautiful and enigmatic Ruan Lingyu became this focal point of my interest in early Chinese cinema. This film tells the history of the Shanghai era of silent cinema through Ruan Lingyu, with great passion. I guess there must have been some influence from Peggy Chiao, the film producer and critics from Taiwan, who provided the concept of this film. We saw the director and actresses interview the characters they played, and be interviewed. Scenes of the lost films were re-constructed. And when Zhang Damin visited Ruan Lingyu’s new home unexpectedly, I could almost see a glimpse of The Goddess.


Centre Stage (1991) and The Goddess (1934)

The re-enact of the scene in Ruan Lingyu’s masterpiece The Goddess (which will be shown on 12th Mar 7:00pm during Cinema China 07) by Maggie Cheung is possibly the highest homage an actress can pay to the great one. Maggie Cheung broke into international scene after she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress with this film in Berlin, and went on to become an icon of contemporary Chinese cinema. If I am allowed to indulge a bit in superstitution, I would say perhaps she is blessed by the spirit Ruan Lingyu.

In the middle of the film, when the camera panned around the stage of Lianhua Company, the young faces of directors, actors and actress are full of hope and energy. They were singing and playing. They were the household names of that era, pioneers of Chinese cinema. Ruan Lingyu, Li Lili, Li Zhuozhuo, Lin Chuchu, Chen Yanyan, Jin Yan, Sun Yu, Li Minwei, Wu Yonggang, Fei Mu, Pu Wancang, Cai Chusheng… We will see films made by them, like Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town and Ruan Lingyu’s The Goddess (directed by Wu Yonggang), along with the ones made by several generations after them. After all, Ruan Lingyu and Lianhua are the representatives of the first golden era of Chinese cinema.

Cinema China 07

This article first appears on WaterInk.

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