Actress Ruan LingYu 阮玲玉 was one of the main star of Shanghai cinema in the 1930s. Shanghailander.net’s series of blog posts about her 1931 movie “Love and duty” sparked interest in the readers. One of them pointed me to the 1991 Stanley Kwan Hong Kong movie “Center Stage” or 阮玲玉 (Ruan Lingyu) in Chinese.
Center Stage is focused on the life of actress Rang Lingyu, from the time she became an actress for the Lian Hua studio in 1930.
Stanley Kwan Hong Kong movie mixes biopic like scenes with cuts from the two remaining original movies (The Godess 1934 and New women 1935). It also adds interviews from people who actually knew Ruan Lingyu, and of some of the movie cast. Meggie Cheung is fantastic at interpreting Ruan Lingyu sensibility.
One of stunning feature of the movie is that various actors speak different Chinese dialects to each other. Ruan Lingyu, as many people of the Lian Hua studio speak cantonese. Other characters speak mandarin or Shanghai dialect, but they all seem to understand each other somehow.
A number of surviving pictures have been studied used to recreate the original scenes. Enormous work has been done recreate the architecture, art, fabrics and objects of the time. The art deco mansion occupied by the Lian Hua studio feels like a Shanghai villa, just like the dance club is clearly inspired by Shanghai’s paramount.
Although not so well known in the West, the movie was well received by critics, with Maggie Chueng earning a Silver price for acting in Berlin festival in 1992. It is definitely a must see for Old Shanghai lovers. Too bad “Love and Duty” was only found and restored after “Center Stage” was made, that would have been a great match.