Lately, a certain term began to sound very popular around China~ Chinese Dream. As government officials try to explain in their well prepared and yet very dull PR speeches, it’s pretty much the same concept as the American Dream back in the 1950s~ work, money, happiness and national pride. However, “American Dreams in China” does not bother with this issue directly. It is only due to strange translation that one may get such an impression. Actually, the literal transliteration would sound something like “Chinese Partner”. And indeed, the story is a mix of comedy and drama which revolves about the dreams and careers of 3 good friends, who came to be successful businessmen. You could say that “American Dreams in China” has elements of a Hollywood style rags-to-riches plot, but there’s more to it~
For one to understand and like this motion title, one must comprehend what China looked like 30 years a go, and trust me, it had absolutely nothing to do with anything you have today. Back in the early 1980s when the story begins, Chinese society was still a firmly Maoist environment, with little or no personal freedoms. The country only started to open up, but still, the road ahead was long and challenging. Money or any kind of major material possessions were a distant dream for most. Young people had only but two choices~ to study and hope for a city desk job, or settle in the country side and employ in a field or factory. Naturally, many had a problem with the options, which pushed to them find luck in other places of the world, most often in the USA. Some of them succeeded to cross the ocean, but most had to stay in China and search for a different way.
American Dreams in China is a story about three college friends with same dreams, and yet, paths that took very different turns. Especially the film’s latter half focuses on the rise of China, and there is a clear message that Chinese people are inherently cleverer, more moral and generally better than stupid Americans who are only economically at the top due to their aggressiveness and luck. There’s also a very odd message in the film about racism in the USA, which seems quite irrelevant to the plot of the film and just another way for the film to push home the message that Chinese people are a better people than Americans. It is a drama (based on a true story as they say) with comic elements~ A Chinese tale which in a humorous, and yet very bold ways speaks of a generation that started the business story which, up till today, made China the economic center of the world. Their work and effort will go along with the changing society, enduring the wild and turbulent tides.
That said, it’s smart on Peter Chan’s part of picking up on this trend and using it here because American Dreams in China is a Mainland Chinese story made for the Mainland audience. The content may prove more difficult with English-speaking audiences whom aren’t aware of the cultural context or why the three friends carry the values they do about America and the American Dream to laugh at it whole-heartedly. Suffice to say, Chan balances the film well and it is impressive to see a Hong Kong director tune to a Mainland frequency. Best thing I can say about Peter Chan’s direction is that he is worldly. American Dreams in China will connect with its audience, namely Chinese people who were born in the 80’s, and those people will enjoy it.