No wonder this was a mainland hit. Peter Chan’s American Dreams In China is a rags-to-riches story that shows how the underdog Chinese beat the Americans at their own game — first through the industrialisation of dreams, then through free market capitalism. Luck, bumps, over-ambition and shattered friendships are necessary mixes along the path, but at the end the message is as clear as the surface of a Jiuzhaigou lake — while aspiring Chinese of the 1980s looked up to the US as the beacon of wealth and economic wonder, today it’s China Inc — its riches, its values, its bombast and its never-give-up defiance that shame the falling-from-grace Americans.
Huang Xiaoming in American Dreams In China.
Nationalism once meant pride in one’s military; now it means pride in one’s economy. We’ve seen a number of Chinese films based on the former, but American Dreams In China is a prime specimen of the latter. As for non-Chinese audiences, the movie, a decade-spanning drama-comedy about three buddies who build an English-tutoring empire from scratch, is earnest and pedestrian. Its inspirational bullet points and David-vs-Goliath story feels run-of-the-mill, and the adulation the film is so ready to shower on its self-made, successful characters strips away much of the business-dealing dogfight. It’s quite startling, too, that the cinematographer is the celebrated Christopher Doyle, the maestro of lush painterly frames, because except for a few shots, the film looks pretty stale.
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