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China: Looking back at a campus shooting

Desktop pirates might have noticed that last year's movie Dark Matter was chosen by eMule as one of the P2P network's movies of the month [zh] was been getting heavy rotation on Saturday. So that's why you're reading about it now; while the metaphor of dark matter as cultural insensitivity doesn't exactly fit, the connection is probably worth making given all the discussion following the revenge-stabbing of several police officers in Shanghai earlier this month.

First, a 2007 post from film critic Raymond Zhou (周黎明):

本以为这样的独立影片会勇敢地探讨人性的黑暗面、以及文化冲突、水土不服等问题。但真的有点失望,影片把中国留学生刚到美国时的种种不适应,做了最肤浅、最夸张的描写,里面当然有真实的细节,但总体上人物根本不可信。从主题上讲,影片的投机取巧使之失去了原来事件的冲击力。

一个很外向、很容易跟人相处的人,是不会一举枪杀好几个人的。

最奇怪的是,华裔导演陈士争没有给斯特里普发挥演技的广阔空间。众所周知,斯特里普是不需要导演便可以给予极具厚度的角色塑造。影片中一场较感人的戏,是刘烨扮演的刘星来到斯特里普家送礼物,欲说还休,他离开后,镜头只给斯特里普一个侧面。我想,换了别的导演,此处可以出现一个叫绝的镜头,因为那时斯特里普的角色内心非常复杂,而那样的镜头是可以把整个表演提升到奥斯卡水准的。

刘烨的表现还不错,有点像留学生中的乖乖仔。只是很难想象他最终会变成卢刚式的人物。当然那是编导的责任。…

At first I thought this indie film would bravely delve into the dark side of human nature, as well as cultural conflicts and issues of acclimatization to new environments. But I really am disappointed in how the film offers a most shallow and exaggerated portrayal of a Chinese overseas student's problems adapting just after his arrival in the United States. Of course, there are many realistic details in the film, but overall the characters are not believable. As for the subject, the impact of the original incident gets lost in the film's selfish ambitions.

An outgoing, amicable person just doesn't turn around and shoot several people.

The strangest part is, the ethnic Chinese director Chen Shizheng (陈士争) did not give actress Meryl Streep ample space to display her acting skill. As everyone knows, Streep doesn't need a director to be able to fully develop her characters. One particularly touching scene in the film is when Liu Xing (刘星, played by Liu Ye 刘烨) goes to Streep's home and she feigns interest in the skincare products he takes to selling to make ends meet after his study plans are botched; he forgets a sample, and as he leaves, the shot only shows Streep from the side. I think with a different director, this scene would have wowed the audience, because Streep's character's emotions at that point were extremely complicated. Of course, that is the director's responsibility…

In April last year, Sina blogger and media worker Wang Xudong (王旭东) attended a screening of the film followed by discussions with Liu Ye, and at the time had this to write:

讨论的话题围绕,电影文本的并不太多,更多焦点是放在:几年前中国留美研究生枪击美国博导和同门师弟这个新闻事件,能否在国内上画?在美上画的考虑等社会话题展开。
影片,整体的感觉就是稚嫩,尤其表现在导演手法和叙事上。故事是以一个真实的新闻事件改编,在我看来,“卢刚校园枪击案”的事件,很震撼,至少结果很震撼,由于当年咱国媒体只是淡化处理了,我们只知道的是个结果,其中的过程并不了解。本期待着通过影片获得些真实的信息,可影片应该没能完成这个任务。

Topics of discussion were sort of peripheral, and there weren't many about the movie script; most were focused on whether news of a Chinese PhD student in the US shooting his American supervisor and several of his peers could be shown in China, as well as social issues in it having been shown in the US.
Overall, the film felt rather raw, especially seen in the narration and directing techniques. The story was based on true events, which I assume was the “Lu Gang (卢刚) campus shooting incident”, which was very shocking, or at least the outcome was, and because our domestic media only played it down at the time, the outcome was all we knew, left unclear about the events leading up. I'd expected to get some of the true facts from this film, but I don't think that's a task this film as achieved.

Intrigue is part of working life for many people in China, but then isn't it for everyone, everywhere? An anonymous writer on this Baidu thread thinks so, although looking primarily at the academic world:

中国知识份子到外闯的确困难重重: 想要出头果真需要天时、地利、人和. 刘星不过是想改善家人生活和追求知识顶峰罢, 谁料到这种不回头的固执会毁灭自己! 主角不幸遇上一个不容其他人挑战自己、好保著自己学术地位的「名师」(Aidan Quinn) . 教授年青时推翻了老师的理论, 成名多年后是个死守学说、靠留学生替自己研究学术, 但内里极度轻蔑门生的学棍. 并非所有人都同意教授, 只是身在学府, 最重视的是自己饭碗, 靠人脉关系「埋堆」才可以生存. 刘星一心只想研究学术, 不会阅读人性险恶, 他甚至估计不到教授反对通过他的论文, 并不是因为使用何种运算方法, 而是因为锋芒过露, 足以动摇教授的地位. 刘星向教授赞扬美国的老师比中国的更能接挑战, 其实东西方都一样, 都不喜欢学生胜过自己.

Chinese intellectuals have it hard anywhere they go abroad; those who want to stand out really need the right opportunity, to be in the right position, and to have the right support. Although Liu Xing only wanted to improve his family life and reach the peak of intellectual pursuit, nobody foresaw that this sort of blind obstinance would lead to his own destruction! The main character unfortunately coming up against someone with no tolerance for being challenged by others, his renowned supervisor (Aidan Quinn). Having disproven his own supervisor's theory in his youth, years later and having built a name for himself, has become an academic thug forced to defend his own theory, having his PhD students’ research do his research for him but despising them at the same time. And not everyone agrees with this professor, but being in the academy, are ultimately concerned about keeping their own rice bowls full, relying on their relationships to survive. Liu Xing lives only to do research, and is oblivious to people's ill intentions, to the point of even not being able to realize that his professor's opposition to approving his thesis has nothing to do with calculation methods, but because of being outdone by talent, enough to rock the professor's position. Liu Xing praises to his supervisor American professors’ wider acceptance of being challenged than Chinese professors, when actually it's the same both in the East and West: nobody likes being outdone by their students.

And finally, some cherrypickings from the comments thread from Dark Matter‘s download page on VeryCD:

Ryancou:
其实看到真实事件和拍摄花絮,心理很难受的,中国大学生到美国大学就读,由于人际关系的纠纷,酿成惨剧。
还有,“初进剧组的那几天,气氛非常诡异,他们私下里都在议论我是不是从中国来的功夫巨星”
为什么中国人和美国人在一起总是那么尴尬呢?
为什么我们中国人和美国人永远不能成为彼此之间互相了解的好朋友呢?

Actually, having seen both the real thing and the footage on the news, it's unbearable, a Chinese university student goes to an American university to study, but then an interpersonal dispute turns to tragedy.
Also, [quoting Liu Ye] “the first few days with the cast were really strange, everyone kept whispering to each other wondering if I was a big kung fu master back in China.”
Why does it always have to be so awkward when Chinese and Americans get together?
Why will we Chinese never become friends who understand each other with the Americans?

demonzion
真人真事,当时很轰动,报纸上说是结业时导师没有给他第一的评价而是给了另一个中国留学生,这位应试教育出身的“才子”就把美国天体物理学的半壁江山毁了。美国老师死就死在不懂中国学生从小就是:考考考,老师的法宝;分分分,学生的命根儿。

Based on true events, it was quite a stir at the time. The newspaper said when the program finished, the supervisor didn't give him top spot but gave it instead to another Chinese student. This “genius” brought up on test-taking education turned half of America's astrophysics world on its head. American professors died for not knowing that for Chinese students, it's all tests, tests, tests, and the magic power for teachers is: score, score, score, it's what Chinese students live for.

wangu571
没有看此片给人第一印象,我心底总感到有辱华的感觉呢,虽然刘烨说没有。

I haven't seen this film, but my first impression is that it's humiliating to China, even if Liu Ye says it's not.

NicholasGunn
Meryl Streep?! 这也成?! 必须下了。

They got Meryl Streep to be in it? I have to download it.

kreax:
中国人在美国做出这件事,这部电影对我们国人来说也是一个审视自己的机会和角度……

For a Chinese to have done something like this in America, this film also offers an opportunity and point of view for us with which to examine ourselves……

moolemon:
非常好的电影,发片时期很巧和,和virginia tech的枪击残案.华人导演华人主角,我们应该支持.非常沉重的话题.

An extremely good film, which coincidentally was released at the same time as the horrible Virginia Tech shooting. A Chinese director and Chinese main actor, we ought to support it. An extremely serious subject.

suprakit:
看完了,说两句。大家不要把电影看作当年事件的再现,影片中讨论的是文化冲突,而且强调主人公受到教授的不公正对待,均与事情的本来面目有一定出入。
当时卢刚枪击的受害者中,就有斯特里普扮演人物的原型。受害人单林华,也没听说有片中描述的刻意讨好美国人的行为。
就表现卢刚事件而言,不存在什么辱华的问题,反而对卢刚付出更多的同情。
事件中,卢刚也是受害者,但是我以为不存在太多文化冲突的因素,更多的是他个人性格缺陷的结果。

I've just watched it, and I've got two cents. Don't everybody look at this as a rehashing of the events at the time. What this film discusses is culture clash, and emphasizes the unfair treatment the main character received from his professor, and clearly departs from the original incident. Among Lu Gang's shooting victims at the time was the character played by Streep. Of the victims you only see Shan Linhua (单林华), and I didn't hear any discussions in the film that went out of their way to praise Americans’ behavior.
As for the displaying the Lu Gang incident, I wouldn't say that any of it was humiliating to China, instead it puts forth even more sympathy to him.
In this incident, Lu Gang was also a victim, but I wouldn't say that there exist too many culture clash factors, the majority of it was the result of his individual personality defects.

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