China dreams fail to strike a chord

NEW DREAM TEAM: American Dreams In China tells the rags-to-riches story of three Chinese college students, (from left) Wang Yang (Tong Dawei), Cheng Dongqing (Huang Xiaoming) and Meng Xiaojun (Deng Chao).


    Sep 19, 2013

    China dreams fail to strike a chord


    Drama/107 minutes

    Rating: 3/5

    ACCLAIMED Hong Kong director Peter Chan's movie American Dreams In China is one tailored for the mainland Chinese audience.

    Released in China in May, the rags-to-riches film topped the box office, raking in a whopping 535 million yuan (S$110 million) and beating Hollywood blockbuster hit Iron Man 3.

    Now, as it hits the big screen here, it's easy to see the reason for its stellar takings in China.

    The movie, which has racked up six nominations for this year's Golden Rooster Awards - China's equivalent of the Oscars, and the results of which will be revealed next week - is peppered with elements that would resonate with the Chinese people, such as events that actually happened in China and aspirations towards the shiny American Dream.

    Here, that ever-elusive dream is pursued by three Chinese college students - timid country boy Cheng Dongqing (Huang Xiaoming), free-spirited Wang Yang (Tong Dawei) and the go-getting Meng Xiaojun (Deng Chao).

    As the plot unfolds, however, the movie becomes less about the good ol' US of A and more about the unabashed pride of the Chinese.

    The trio's plans for America fall through and they end up making it big in their own home country by banking on the shared American dreams of their countrymen.

    They set up a school (aptly named New Dream) teaching English to Chinese students, and even provide coaching sessions for those who hope to ace the American Visa interview.

    Veteran film-maker Chan reportedly drew inspiration from the true success story of Beijing's New Oriental Education and Technology Group, which teaches English language and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

    Movie-goers will be pleased to know that despite the many Chinese cultural references, there are elements in the film that will move and amuse one, regardless of nationality.

    There's the toll that the burgeoning education empire takes on the bromance, for instance, and how the friends eventually band together to fight a lawsuit against an American testing service.

    The good-looking, suave-in-real-life Huang is convincing as an awkward bespectacled dork, and serves up some lighthearted and quirky moments.

    So convincing, in fact, that he earned a Golden Rooster nomination - for Best Actor, no less - for his role.

    And, providing a respite in the testosterone-charged film is Cheng's bumbling attempts to chase a fellow student, ice queen Su Mei (top Chinese model Du Juan).

    The movie may tell a compelling story, but on a personal level, it sadly did not strike a chord with me. Perhaps it's simply because the dreams of those in China are not the same as those of us here.

    American Dreams In China opens in cinemas today.