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American Dreams in China

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
4:00 AM
Michigan Theater Screening Room
603 East Liberty Street

Part of the Electric Shadows Contemporary Chinese Film Series, sponsored by the U-M Confucius Institute and the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies

Shot by superstar cinematographer Christopher Doyle and dubbed "the Chinese Social Network", this epic tale of business bravado follows three friends who launch a successful online English instruction school for Chinese students — and then face lawsuits over copyright infringement.

How did China do it? Was it simply the sheer size of its population that rocketed the nation from Communist underdog to global economic superpower? American Dreams in China suggests otherwise. Inspired by a true story, this stirring tale dramatizes both the spirit and the details of China's historic rise.

In 1985, three ambitious college students meet in Beijing. Meng Xiaojun (Deng Chao), Wang Yang (Tong Dawei), and Cheng Dongqing (Huang Xiaoming) come from different backgrounds, but they all pin their fortunes on getting student visas for the United States.

Only Xiaojun is successful. However, lacking perfect English, he is forced to support his study at Columbia University with debasing part-time jobs. Meanwhile, Yang and Dongqing keep working in Beijing, determined to develop the idea the trio hatched together: a new system for teaching English to the tens of millions of Chinese eager for the advantages fluency brings.

Directed by Hong Kong veteran Peter Ho-sun Chan and shot by Christopher Doyle, with a vitality equal to its characters' motivation, American Dreams in China is truly a film of the moment. Framed by a lawsuit that sees these three entrepreneurs charged with copyright infringement, it shows how business success can trample on interpersonal relationships. The story of these twenty-first-century billionaires is as seductive and compelling for Chinese viewers as The Social Network was for Americans. To watch American Dreams in China in a North American context is to gain insight into just how emotional the triumph of China's global success can be. Film summary courtesy of TIFF.

The Electric Shadows Contemporary Chinese Film Series is sponsored by the U-M Confucius Institute and the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies