HIFF Review: American Dreams in China

Oct. 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

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REVIEW BY STEVEN MARK / smark@staradvertiser.com

There’s a long history of foreign moviemakers making movies about America, from Billy Wilder to Sam Mendes. They made their films for American audiences.

“American Dreams in China” is a Chinese film that is also about America, but it’s for Chinese audiences. So as an American, it’s interesting to see how the American Dream — which one could loosely define as success, wealth, and freedom, not necessarily in that order – plays through Chinese eyes.


Spotlight on China

United States Premiere

Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Regal Dole Cannery Stadium 16 and 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at Consolidated Koko Marina 8.


The film tells the story of three friends, Meng Xiaojun, Wang Yang, and Cheng Dongqing, who become corporate superstars running an English-language school in China.
It’s framed as a kind of coming-of-age tale, as they learn about life and love along the way in moments both touching and humorous.

For example, Cheng, boning up on English in an attempt to try to get a US visa, meets his girlfriend studying by candlelight in the library. She acknowledges him, but he finally gets a kiss while she has tuberculosis.

Wang, meanwhile, has his first sexual experience with an American girl and winds up getting sick from it.

Meng, whose grandfather and father both studied in the States and came back to China, plans to stay in the States. He is the only one to get a visa, but winds up with a menial job and comes back, too ashamed to explain what happened.

They eventually establish the New Dream school, which starts out as small classes held in the local Kentucky Fried Chicken, moves into an abandoned building, but then becomes wildly successful. They start out by using using phrases from American movies — “I coulda’ been a contender!” — but the key to their success is to teach students to “think American,” to be confident, outspoken, and not be shy about speaking English.

Throughout the film, one sees the various ways in which America is viewed by Chinese — sometimes as the land of hopes and dreams, sometimes as an enemy, such as after the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade embassy.

The school is eventually are accused of helping their students cheat to pass the TOEFL, the English-language test that foreign students must pass to study in America, which comes at a particularly crucial time for the company and the three friends.

It’s an interesting take on America, and on the Chinese who want to come here. But mostly, it’s a nice story about friendship.
Click here for more coverage of the 33rd Hawaii International Film Festival.

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