Disappearing Politics and the Politics of Disappearance

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Han Li

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Department of English, NTNU


This paper examines the intertextual structure and its dynamic employment of (de)constructing female subjectivity in Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage (1992). In this study, I suggest how the film’s fundamental reconstruction of the life experience of Ruan Lingyu (1910-35) is intertwined with representational erasure of 1930s Shanghai that in turn testifies to Hong Kong’s own subjectivity. I focus on the places in Center Stage where remakes of certain scenes of Ruan’s films along with original footage are inserted into the reconstructed narration of Ruan’s life. By examining the appropriation of these clips in Center Stage, I demonstrate how a parallel is created between the female characters’ experience in these 1930s films with the purported situation of Ruan Lingyu on the reconstruction level. I argue that in the filmmaker’s effort to seemingly reconstruct the female subject, the narrative in fact serves to de-politicize the 1930s films, especially the leftist ones. With the postmodern meta-cinematic structure of this film, not only does the reconstructed female subjectivity dissolve in the self-reflexive move, but the leftist progressive ideologies are also undermined. The representational erasure of the leftist elements on the discursive level is supported by the art direction in Center Stage, in which painted paperboards are used as background. On these two intermingled discursive and visual layers, Kwan tackles the apocalyptical anxiety of Hong Kong society in the 1990s with a unique representational hegemony of 1930s Shanghai.