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“Datong: The Great Society” Receives Inaugural Movie of the Year Award

Film International is pleased to support and promote Film International reviewer Evans Chan’s new film.

New York-based Hong Kong director Evans Chan’s new film, Datong: The Great Society (大同:康有為在瑞典), which is playing in the former British colony to critical acclaim, became the first film to receive the inaugural Movie of the Year Award presented by Southern Metropolitan Daily (南方都市報) as part of its Humane Life Awards (人文生活大獎) for Shenzhen and Hong Kong.  The year-end award ceremony took place at the Shangri-la Hotel in Kowloon.

Chan’s film, which mixes documentary and theatrical presentation, has been recognized for its artistic originality and outstanding scholarship that departs from the officially-sponsored narratives of China’s past century, hence reopening vital debates about issues of Chinese nationhood during the much lauded centennial of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, which spelled an end to China’s imperial past.

Describing the film as “brimful of dissenting opinions,” the Hong Kong Economic Journal compared The Great Society to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street protests. Veteran critic and programmer, Freddie Wong, said in Hong Kong’s Apple Daily (蘋果日報) that it “is a must see for anyone interested in the future of China.”  In her Ming Pao (明報) film review column, Esther Cheung, head of the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong, hailed the film as “a rare masterpiece in the history of Chinese cinema.” Jonathan Spence, renowned historian of China, praised its “unusual…Swedish angle…which brings Kang Youwei (康有為 1858-1927) back to life.”  Chinese cinema expert, Chris Berry of London’s Goldsmiths College, described The Great Society as “very moving…the life of this great Southern intellectual/utopian philosopher…resonates so strongly with the struggles of China’s diasporic intelligentsia today.”

A Guangzhou-based newspaper, Southern Metropolitan Daily (SMD) is considered by many to be China’s leading city paper, known for its independence and crusading investigative journalism, such as its 2003 reports about the SARS outbreak.  In presenting its inaugural Movie-of-the-Year award, SMD praised The Great Society for “dusting off hidden history, returning an entire, real body to our reflections…it sheds the grand narrative and focuses instead on the singular destiny of Kang Youwei, through whom the film examines some crucial issues in that pivotal era…By presenting an alternative perspective during the Xinhai centennial, it has returned to our times fuller memories and humanity; it has patched up gaps in our history of thoughts.”

Lindzay Chan

Datong (大同) is the Chinese notion of “utopia.”  And Kang Youwei  was the pre-eminent modern Chinese philosopher who revived this ideal of a Great Commonwealth  from the millennial Confucian tradition for all of mankind.  Today Kang is, however, best known for his Hundred Days Reform (百日维新) of 1898, which was China’s first major effort at modernizing its political and economic system.  Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) crushed the reform and issued a death warrant on Kang, who fled abroad and was treated like a head of state as he visited more than 30 countries while promoting his reform causes.  His odyssey led him to an island in Sweden, where he lived between 1904-1908,” said Chan.  The Chinese title of the film is actually Kang Youwei in Sweden.

Leo Ou Fan Lee (李歐梵), Chinese literature professor emeritus of Harvard University, commended the film’s “alternative vision of history that goes against the grain of the mainstream discussion of the Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命) of 1911.”  In his October 30 column for Asiaweek (亞洲周刊), he urged the film’s artistic merits “be recognized, while creating discussions…and reflections on the meaning of the centennial of the 1911 Revolution…in the cultural world of the three Chinas of Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland.”

Chan pointed out that, with the film’s release in Taiwan next April, the 2011 SMD Movie of the Year Award will certainly raise the film’s profile in China.  “So Professor Lee’s urging that it create discussions in the three Chinas has been partly fulfilled.  And I’m naturally pleased.”

Other individual awardees this year include the legendary action film director Johnnie To (杜琪峯), whose recent film Life Without Principle competed in Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

Lindzay Chan

Produced by Taiwan’s famed critic-producer Peggy Chiao, Datong: The Great Society features two time Hong Kong Film Awards’ Best Supporting Actor winner Liu Kai Chi (廖啟智) as Kang Youwei, and former Hong Kong Ballet ballerina Lindzay Chan (陳令智) as Kang Tung Pih (康同璧), Kang’s second daughter who became a pioneering Chinese feminist.  The film is narrated by Chiang Ching (江青), internationally famous actress-turned-dancer/choreographer who lives between New York and Stockholm, and edited by the virtuosic Mary Stephen, longtime editor of Eric Rohmer.  The film is currently playing at Palace IFC, Broadway Cinematheque and AMC Pacific Place in Hong Kong.

Called by Michael Berry “one of the most singularly innovative and diverse figures in the Chinese cultural world [in the past 15 years],” Evans Chan, critic, playwright and filmmaker has made four narrative features, including To Liv(e) (浮世戀曲1992), Crossings (錯愛 1994), and The Map of Sex and Love (情色地圖 2001), and five documentaries, including Journey to Beijing (北征 1999), Adeus Macau (澳門二千 2000) and Sorceress of the New Piano (靈琴新韻 2004).  His award winning films have been shown at the Berlin, Rotterdam, London, Moscow, Montreal, and Taiwan Golden Horse film festivals, among others.

For further information about Datong: The Great Society, please visit Evanschan.com, and see interviews with Evans Chan at China Beat blog:

http://www.thechinabeat.org/?p=4016

as well as at China Heritage Quarterly:

http://www.chinaheritagenewsletter.org/articles.php?searchterm=027_datong.inc&issue=027

All inquiries concerning the film should be directed to Nicole Chan (nininicolechan AT gmail.com).

1 Comment for ““Datong: The Great Society” Receives Inaugural Movie of the Year Award”

  1. I am responsible for the CineCulture film series at Fresno State, and am very interested in screening this film. CineCulture is an academic course, campus club, and film series offered to the campus and broader community as a service at no charge. One of the hallmarks of the series is the post screening discussion, facilitated by someone with relevant expertise, and I try to bring as many filmmakers as possible since many of my students are aspiring filmmakers. If the filmmaker could join us we could offer a modest honorarium and cover expenses. The overarching goal of CineCulture is cultural understanding and respect for diversity.

    Would it be possible to get a screener in order to consider this film for the spring semester lineup? Your film was highly recommended to me by a colleague who specializes in China in the Anthropology dept.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Dr. Mary Husain

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