Center Stage

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

The film is based on a true story: the tragic life of China's first prima donna of the silver screen, Ruan Lingyu. This movie chronicles her rise to fame as a movie actress in Shanghai during the 1930s. Nicknamed the "Chinese Garbo," Ruan Lingyu began her acting career when she was 16 years old and committed suicide at age 24.

The film alternates between present scenes (production talks between director Kwan, Cheung, and co-star Carina Lau, interviews of witnesses who knew Ruan), re-creation scenes with Cheung (as Ruan, acting inside this movie), and extracts from Ruan's original films including her final two films The Goddess and New Women.

Director & Cast



  • "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
  • "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