At first glance, Stanley Kwan would seem to be working in the tradition of Douglas Sirk, Vincente Minnelli and R.W. Fassbinder--bold visual stylists utilizing yet transcending the conventions of screen melodrama to achieve their more serious artistic goals. Kwan differs from his predecessors in that he eschews irony in favor of sincere romance. Whereas they made emotionally intense films with lurid colors and big emotions, Kwan has created a more serene and modest film universe that is equally gorgeous and reflexive. His "Rouge" (1988) and "The Actress/Center Stage" (1991) are explicitly concerned with the movies and the lost past they evoke. Kwan's films are particularly unusual in the context of a national cinema prized by cultish Westerners for their crazy energy and over-the-top situations. Many of the kids who cheer at Jackie Chan and groove to John Woo are nonplused by these "women's pictures." More sophisticated cineastes have pointed to Kwan and Wong Kar-wai as two of the few original film artists working in the commercial Hong Kong film industry. (They also share a favored cinematographer in Christopher Doyle.) Instead of stunts and gunfights, Kwan's films serve up both beautiful people and sumptuous mise-en-scene. Michael Atkinson has written (in FILM COMMENT, May/June 1996), "... His images are deep, precise, and warm, jam-packed with mirrors, scrims, doorways, and burnished tchotchkes."
Kwan started his career in TV as an assistant director and served in that same capacity for Ann Hui on "Boat People" (1982). His first two films as a director were uneven but promising in their idiosyncratic take on tired generic material but "Rouge," his third feature, was a revelation. Produced by action maven Jackie Chan, this was a ghost story but not the usual outlandish hellzapoppin' fare for which HK is justly famous. Rather "Rouge" was impressively restrained, with no special effects to speak of other than Anita Mui's luminous performance as a lovelorn ghost. Like George Cukor in Hollywood, Kwan is a great director of actresses; several of his leading ladies have snared festival and HK industry awards under his guidance. Maggie Cheung gave one of the best performances of her busy career in "The Actress/Center Stage," playing the Chinese silent film star Ruan Ling-yu who died young and tragically.
The Shanghai-set melodrama "Red Rose, White Rose" (1995) garnered Kwan some of his best notices in several years. Adapted from a 1942 novella by Eileen Chang, the film told the story of a young man (Winston Chao) torn between his love for two very different women (Joan Chen, Veronica Yip). Those familiar with Chang's writing were more impressed than those who were not. The scripting, acting, lensing and production design were all praised. Kwan's next project was unusual--and unusually personal. He directed, scripted and appeared in "Yang & Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema," a segment of "The Century of Cinema," a BFI-commissioned documentary series celebrating the centenary of film. This film essay argued that Chinese cinema--mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan--has dealt more frankly and provocatively with questions of gender and sexuality than any other national cinema. Kwan builds his case with film clips and interviews, including one with his mother in which he quietly comes out to the viewer as a gay man.
Director (Feature Film)
Assistant Direction (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Served as an assistant director to Ann Hui on "Boat People"
Feature directorial debut, "Women", a romantic drama starring Chow Yun-fat as an unfaithful husband
Served as an assistant director to Jackie Chan on the lavish adventure "The Armour of God"
Directed Chow again in the rueful murder mystery "Love Unto Waste"
Breakthrough feature, "Rouge", a romantic ghost story produced by Chan and starring Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung
First film shot largely in the USA, "Full Moon in New York"; first collaboration with actress Maggie Cheung
Helmed "The Actress/Center Stage", an acclaimed biopic starring Maggie Cheung as Ruan Ling-yu, a great star of Chinese silent film
Feature producing debut, served as associate producer on "Ah-Ying/Ming Ghost", a Taiwanese supernatural drama
Directed, scripted and appeared in "Yang & Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema", a segment of "The Century of Cinema", a BFI-commissioned documentary series celebrating the centenary of film; segment focused on provocative ways in which Chinese cinema has dealt with questions of gender and sexuality
Made the controversial documentary "Personal Memoir of Hong Kong: Still Love You After All These", reflecting on the year that China re-asserted its sovereignty over Hong Kong colored by his sexual orientation
Dealt overtly with gay themes in the film "Hold You Tight/Yue kuai le, yue duo luo"
Helmed "Island Tales", a parable about the change over of Hong Kong from British rule to Chinese control focusing on seven people quarantined after the outbreak of a deadly virus
Made "Lan Yu", an adaptation of a gay-themed Internet-published novel called "Beijing Story" focusing on male lovers set against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square uprising