“Chinese Modern: A Tribute to Cathay Studios,” nominally a retrospective celebrating one of the seminal production companies in Hong Kong cinema, could just as well be a celebration of a seismic talent known as Ge Lan, a.k.a.Grace Chang.
Ensconced in cosmopolitan culture, from airliners to mambo clubs, Cathay’s urbane entertainments envisioned a Hong Kong jet set that presaged the city’s eventual ascendance as an economic powerhouse. Central to this modern vision were the stable of actresses who portrayed headstrong, independent leads in these films, not the least of which was Chang. Of the seven films in the sidebar, five feature Chang, she of the sultry, man-eating gaze and volcano voice.
As a singer and actress, Chang exuded a liberated, free-wheeling persona that ushered an era of swinging times among a generation of post-war Chinese. Chang’s voice, powered by years of Peking opera training, rings with a bell-like clarity that compensates for its lack of delicacy or restraint. And when hitched to a mean mambo rhythm and lyrics like “shaking bodies drive everyone wild… dance as crazy, crazy, crazy as I am!”, her clarion call threatens to topple thousands of years of Chinese repression. The butchiness of her stentorian singing makes her ripe for camp appreciation among contemporary Sino-queers, including Tsai Ming-liang, who offered touchingly makeshift homages to her song-dance numbers in The Hole. But her lasting impact on Chinese cinema is no less important than Brigitte Bardot’s on French cinema or Marilyn Monroe’s on Hollywood: when Asia Weekly conducted a poll of the greatest Chinese films of the 20th century, two Grace Chang films, Mambo Girl and The Wild, Wild Rose, made the list.
Mambo Girl, reputedly conceived when Cathay Studio head Loke Wan Tho saw Chang dancing at a nightclub, is the film that catapulted Chang to stardom, extensively exhibiting her dancing skill. Personally I don’t think her footwork is all it’s made out to be, but the poise with which she sells the latest imported steps is persuasive. More disturbing is the subtext to be found in what otherwise may appear to be a teen melodrama plot serving as a perfunctory coagulant for the dance numbers. Innocent but spoiled party girl Kailing (Chang) overhears rumors of her orphan lineage, leading to a haunting, if dissonant scene where she envisions her birth mother as a peasant, in sharp contrast to her debonair, Western-clothed adoptive parents. Her search leads her to a washroom attendant who staunchly denies their biological link, even as she confirms it in solitude. Her Stella Dallas-esque sacrifice is a face-saving measure that subverts the New Society promises of the film—Kailing can be a symbol of the New Chinese Woman only if she doesn’t have a low-class family history to haunt her. Cheerfully reconciled with her adoptive parents and affluent classmates, Kailing launches into a ten-minute dance sequence in which she practically mambos the past out of her memory, even as her real mother watches through a doorway crack with sorrowful pride.
The Wild, Wild Rose offers further pleasurable perversities lying in the cracks of Cathay’s brave new world. Good mambo girl Chang has gone very bad as Sijia, a nightclub chanteuse who makes a stunning entrance, literally dancing on title credits emblazoned on a staircase. Her first number, a sultry Chinese version of “La Habanera” from Bizet’s Carmen, suggests that Hanhua (Chang Yang), the schoolteacher-turned-nightclub pianist who eyes her in horny bewilderment, is in for a whole mess of trouble. But when Hanhua saves Sijia from a near-fatal beating, a spark of devotional reciprocation is kindled in Sijia that’s missing in her famous Spanish counterpart. Sijia tries to make a decent go as a homemaker for Hanhua, but his drunken profligacy forces her to return to the stage, notably as a contrite Madame Butterfly bowing in geisha garb. Recalling Marlene Dietrich’s stunning journey of self-discovery in Morocco, Sijia’s volatile transformation from a carefree material girl into a bitterly tragic maternal figure for her childish husband (a typical male counterpart to the Cathay heroine) gives layers of drama to the Grace Chang persona. No longer does she simply represent an escapist fantasy for Chinese hipsters, but a fierce assertion of individualist womanhood who insists on her freedom of choice, even in the face of an oppressive reality.
Oscars 2019: Who Will Win? Who Should Win? Our Final Predictions
No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them.
No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits. Across the last 24 days, Ed Gonzalez and I have mulled over the academy’s existential crisis and how it’s polluted this year’s Oscar race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again. We’re spent, and while we don’t know if we have it in us to do this next year, we just might give it another go if Oscar proves us wrong on Sunday in more than just one category.
Below are our final Oscar predictions. Want more? Click on the individual articles for our justifications and more, including who we think should win in all 24 categories.
Picture: Green Book
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Actress: Glenn Close, The Wife
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Original Screenplay: Green Book
Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
Foreign Language: Roma
Documentary Feature: RBG
Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Documentary Short: Period. End of Sentence
Animated Short: Weekends
Live Action Short: Skin
Film Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Production Design: The Favourite
Cinematography: Cold War
Costume Design: The Favourite
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Song: “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
Sound Editing: First Man
Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Visual Effects: First Man
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Picture
The industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again.
“I’m hyperventilating a little. If I fall over pick me up because I’ve got something to say,” deadpanned Frances McDormand upon winning her best actress Oscar last year. From her lips to Hollywood’s ears. No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits.
But first, as McDormand herself called for during her speech, “a moment of perspective.” A crop of articles have popped up over the last two weeks looking back at the brutal showdown between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love at the 1999 Academy Awards, when Harvey Weinstein was at the height of his nefarious powers. Every retrospective piece accepts as common wisdom that it was probably the most obnoxious awards season in history, one that indeed set the stage for every grinding assault we’ve paid witness to ever since. But did anyone two decades ago have to endure dozens of weekly Oscar podcasters and hundreds of underpaid web writers musing, “What do the Academy Awards want to be moving forward, exactly? Who should voters represent in this fractured media environment, exactly?” How much whiskey we can safely use to wash down our Lexapro, exactly?
Amid the fox-in-a-henhouse milieu of ceaseless moral outrage serving as this awards season’s backdrop, and amid the self-obsessed entertainers now wrestling with the idea that they now have to be “content providers,” all anyone seems concerned about is what an Oscar means in the future, and whether next year’s versions of Black Panther and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody have a seat at the table. What everyone’s forgetting is what the Oscars have always been. In other words, the industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again, and Oscar’s clearly splintered voting blocs may become ground zero for a Make the Academy Great Again watershed.
In 1956, the Oscars took a turn toward small, quotidian, neo-realish movies, awarding Marty the top prize. The correction was swift and sure the following year, with a full slate of elephantine epics underlining the movie industry’s intimidation at the new threat of television. Moonlight’s shocking triumph two years ago was similarly answered by the safe, whimsical The Shape of Water, a choice that reaffirmed the academy’s commitment to politically innocuous liberalism in artistically conservative digs. Call us cynical, but we know which of the last couple go-arounds feels like the real academy. Which is why so many are banking on the formally dazzling humanism of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and so few on the vital, merciless fury of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.
And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the academy’s new members, there’s that righteous, reactionary fervor in the air against those attempting to “cancel” Green Book. Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.
Will Win: Green Book
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.
Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman