. . . Stanley Kwan

. . .

100 Super Movies au maximum: Actress

Hsiao-yu tugged at me Director Stanley Kwan's film is a masterpiece, maybe the most intelligently self-aware historical melodrama ever made.

The Hong Kong producers' version, going under the title Centre Stage, thirty minutes shorter and completely restructured, is a Star-Is-Born-and-Then-Dies biopic with pretty cinematography and great acting.

Among the producers' cuts is the central scene of the movie:

After the protagonist's suicide, everyone is standing around her corpse, crying (or not). That's where Centre Stage ends.
Actress draws that shot out, and then interrupts it with Stanley Kwan's voice calling for a retake because he saw Maggie Cheung's chest move.
The scene is then played again, this time with the viewer aware of how much physical strain the perfectly still Cheung must be undergoing beneath and past the moving camera.
"Cut!", and Cheung comes surging up from her deathbed taking great racking gulps of air....

It's an extraordinarily moving collapse of film-as-documentation and film-as-artifice and film-as-immortality -- star as slain and resurrected sacrifice, perpetually reproducing the same....

Auntie Li, why don't you cry? A few prints of Actress have played a lot of film festivals over the years without ever finding a distributor. Despite Kwan's having produced the best entry in BFI's "Century of Cinema" series (going against the likes of Martin Scorsese and Jean-Luc Godard), his early ghost story Rouge remains pretty much the only work available to American audiences.

At this point Actress bids well to become the first great lost film of the 1990s.

. . .

The disappearance of Stanley Kwan's Actress continues apace. Having had its time in international film festivals and American rep houses, Kwan's 150-minute masterpiece has been pulled completely out of distribution by the Chinese company that holds US rights. The studio's 120-minute "normalized" version, released commercially in HK theaters and on videotape (and soon DVD) as Centre Stage, is now the only one available in America, although the distributors have taken care to increase consumer befuddlement by repackaging that film as The Actress.

Ruan Ling-Yu died 67 years ago yesterday. According to Kwan's film, she had been scheduled to give a talk on International Women's Day to some students. "Nothing matters."


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