Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The Golden Era
The Golden Era will play in Lincoln Center’s Film Comment Selects 2015 series on March 1.
"I can't tell if anyone will read my stuff later. But I'm quite sure that the gossip about me will go on and on," laments writer Xioa Hong (Wei Tang) on her deathbed. Ironically, despite pointedly registering that complaint, The Golden Era does just what she dreads. Shunting her writing to the side to focus on her tragic love life and early death, Ann Hui's film reduces an intriguing sounding woman—one who, by the film's own account, made a name for herself as a writer without conforming to conventional mores, either about how to write or how to behave—to a Camille-like figure of pity, picturesquely tubercular, ill-used by men, and admirable mainly for the gallantry with which she faced an avalanche of bad luck.
As the film's deliberate pace, in which long silences frequently precede or follow a line of dialogue, makes its nearly three-hour running time feel even longer, we hear Xiao's story told at least as much as we see it unfold. Actors playing her brother, lovers, and friends address the camera in turn, narrating what they know of her story. While Wei is lively and magnetic, making it all but impossible not to empathize with her character when she's on screen, the third-person speculation often makes Xiao's story feel as distant as a conversation witnessed from far enough away that you can only make out a person's gestures and not their words. That effect is magnified when the narrators acknowledge that they have no way of knowing why someone did something important, such as abandoning a pregnant Xiao.
The impression we're left with is of a badly used young beauty condemned to make her own way through the world while longing for love. Read the rest in Slant Magazine