Review: THE GOLDEN ERA 黄金时代 (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Review: THE GOLDEN ERA 黄金时代 (2014)

Ann Hui's three-hour biopic of Chinese writer Xiao Hong is beautifully mounted, but lacks emotional impact and a solid storyline.

Primarily known for directing contemporary Hong Kong dramas such as JULY RHAPSODY (2002), THE WAY WE ARE (2008) and A SIMPLE LIFE (2011), acclaimed filmmaker Ann Hui took a detour from her usual norm and made THE GOLDEN ERA, a period biopic chronicles around the life of the famous Chinese writer Xiao Hong (1911-1942). On paper, THE GOLDEN ERA looks as if it's the kind of movie worth looking forward to, especially given the calibre of such prestigious director like Ann Hui herself. Unfortunately, upon finally watches the movie, the result isn't as good as I hoped for.


Born in 1911 in Manchuria under the real name of Zhang Naiying, Xiao Hong (Tang Wei) suffers from unhappy childhood due to her abusive father. At the age of 20, she chooses to run away from home to escape an arranged marriage. The movie also reveals how her lover, Wang Enjia (Yuan Wenkang) abandons her with a huge amount of unpaid hotel bill. So, Xiao Hong writes a letter to the International Gazette paper seeking for financial help. She subsequently meets one of the paper's writers, Xiao Jun (Feng Shaofeng) and begins her writing career. Both of them eventually become lovers and had a relationship for five years. After breaking up with Xiao Jun, she meets another man Duanmu Hongliang (Zhu Yawen) and marries him in 1938. Unfortunately, her married life is short-lived when she is diagnosed with tuberculosis and later died in January 1942 at the age of 30.

Technically speaking, THE GOLDEN ERA is blessed with Zhao Hai's sumptuous production design that successfully recreated the turbulent eras of 1930s China and 1940s Hong Kong settings. Also worth praising are Wang Yu's widescreen cinematography and Eli Marshall's score, which both evoke a sense of bittersweet nostalgia. 

Most of the Mainland casts are top notch, with Feng Shaofeng particularly delivers a standout performance as the charismatic Xiao Jun.

The brief black-and-white shot of Xiao Hong breaks the fourth wall as she tells her name, the day and the place she was born and finally, her own time of death.

Ann Hui's artistic decision to include many on-and-off different characters describing the events directly to the camera, is bold and strikingly unconventional at first. But after a while, her "talking heads" idea wears off quickly and becomes cumbersome as the movie goes on. Hui's direction is also largely stilted, which explains one of the primary reasons that the movie's 179-minute running time feels like an endurance test to sit through. It doesn't help either when Li Qiang's lacklustre screenplay is almost devoid of strong dramatic and emotional hooks. Not to mention his screenplay hardly digs deep enough to offer a substantial in-depth look on Xiao Hong's personal and professional life.

Another major flaw is Tang Wei, who plays the role as Xiao Hong. Most of the time she looks emotionally vacant, yet strangely uninvolving until it's difficult to sympathise with her character.


As the Hong Kong's official Best Foreign-Language Film entry for 2015 Academy Award, THE GOLDEN ERA isn't exactly award-worthy enough to justify its submission. The movie is a disappointingly average effort and the fact it fails to get shortlisted in the end for next year's Oscar hardly surprised me at all.

* This review is written courtesy from GSC press screening *

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