Cross-cultural cosmology

Pub date April 30, 2008
SectionFilm Review

REVIEW There are many films about Asian immigrants and their cross-cultural experiences after they come to America in hope of a better future. But none of them are like Dark Matter, the feature debut of China-born and New York–based Chen Shi-zheng. Chen is an established opera actor and opera and theater director who left China for the United States in 1987 in search of artistic freedom. Although his innovative staging of the 19-hour-long Ming Dynasty–era play The Peony Pavilion (1999) received international critical acclaim, whether Chen found what he was looking for in the States is debatable — particularly if Dark Matter contains even the slightest hint of autobiography. Starring prominent Chinese actor Liu Ye (2006’s The Curse of the Golden Flower) and the great Meryl Streep, Dark Matter is loosely based on a 1991 incident at Iowa University when a Chinese graduate student picked up a gun and started firing. Chen’s tale about a Chinese PhD candidate at an American university whose initial enthusiasm gives way to frustration and helplessness when his professor turns against him for questioning his cosmology addresses many issues, including the claustrophobic world of academia and where goals and aspirations can lead if violently crushed — revealing how misleading the idea of the "American dream" can be.

DARK MATTER opens Fri/2 in Bay Area theaters.