Sunday, March 1, 2015
Ever-surprising Hong Kong New Wave axiom Ann Hui forges a fractured, modernist epic on the life of Manchurian essayist and novelist Xiao Hong (Tang Wei), belatedly regarded as one of 20th-century Chinese literature’s most important figures. The film recounts her brief and tragedy-filled life—she died in 1941 at age 32—as one of constant struggle: to lead an independent life, fleeing from an abusive father and an arranged marriage; to survive, after she’s left destitute, pregnant, and in debt by a lover, until an essay finally catches the attention of the editors of a literary journal; and to overcome being regarded as merely another rather talented wife of a great writer once she marries novelist Xiao Jun (Feng Shao Feng). All of this unfolds during an era of monumental upheaval in Chinese social and political life. Xiao’s prose, in contrast to the politically charged fashions and needs of the day to which her husband catered, was intimate, often melancholic, bordering on bitter, and strongly autobiographical. Her story is told, sometimes direct to camera, from a variety of perspectives by those who knew her, creating a weave of recollections and reminiscences that refuse to neatly add up. Xiao remains an enigma to the illustrious literary peers who crossed paths with her—and probably to herself as well. In its grandeur and formal self-reflexiveness, The Golden Era is a true UFO in contemporary Chinese cinema, and represents Hui’s crowning achievement.