Center Stage

Directed by Stanley Kwan
Film Movement Classics
1991
154 Minutes
Hong Kong
Cantonese, Mandarin, English
Biography, Drama, Romance
NR

International superstar Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) embodies tragic screen siren Ruan Lingyu, known as the "Greta Garbo of China," in this unconventional biopic by Hong Kong New Wave master Stanley Kwan (Rouge). Praised for her moving and emotive onscreen presence, Ruan’s private life, which was frequent fodder for the vicious Shanghai tabloids, began to mirror the melodramas which brought her fame, culminating in her suicide at age 24. Kwan and Cheung paint a kaleidoscopic yet intimate portrait of the ill-fated actress, deftly blending lush period drama, archival footage, and metatextual documentary sequences of Cheung reflecting on Ruan’s legacy. The result is, much like the films of Ruan Lingyu themselves, “tender, vivid and almost overwhelmingly moving” (Time Out).

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Reviews

  • "One of the indisputably great Chinese works of the past decade and Kwan's most thrilling, concentrated and dazzling achievement."
    Patrick Z. McGavin, Chicago Tribune
  • "Centre Stage, Stanley Kwan’s landmark film about the legendary Shanghai silent film actress Ruan Lingyu, whose performance as a mother driven to prostitution in Yu Wonggang’s Goddess (1934) is one of the most powerful and naturalistic in silent film history, transcends the biopic genre. The film’s radical break with traditional narrative structure, all the more striking in that it emerges from one of the most commercial industries in the world, is clear evidence of the challenge the new wave directors such as Kwan and his contemporaries Wong kar-wai and Ann Hui, were issuing to the Hong Kong film industry rooted in generic formulas and visual titillation. Like a Chinese box, the film’s various layers slip inside one another, the parts resonating through the whole and interacting in complex and innovative ways."
    Dean Bowman, Eye for Film
  • "A masterpiece by Stanley Kwan, the greatest Hong Kong film I’ve seen."
    Jonathan Rosenbaum
  • "Tender, vivid and almost overwhelmingly moving."
    Time Out
  • "An overwhelmingly moving tribute to the popular Hong Kong actress Ruan Ling-yu of the 1930s. Grade: A"
    Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews
  • "Centre Stage has justifiably earned its reputation as a classic of the Hong Kong New Wave."
    Tony Williams, Senses of Cinema
  • "A remarkable elegy to one of the greatest actresses in world cinema overseen by a director at the peak of his creative powers."
    Kevin Wilson, Thirty Frames A Second