Loosely inspired by the true story of Gang Lu, a Chinese physics student, but with substantial differences in plot and character motivation, the film stars Liu Xing (Liu Ye), as a humble, but brilliant, Chinese student, who arrives at Valley State University and makes a bumpy transition into American life with the help of Joanna Silver (Meryl Streep), a wealthy university patron who takes a liking to the young student. Xing joins a select cosmology group under the direction of his hero, the famous cosmologist Professor Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn). The group is working to create a model of the origins of the universe, based on Reiser's theory. Xing's enormous talent leads him quickly to become Reiser's protégé, and it seems that only hard work stands between him and a bright future in science. But Xing is obsessed with the study of dark matter, an unseen substance that he believes shapes the universe, and a theory that conflicts with the Reiser model. When Xing begins to make scientific breakthroughs of his own, he begins to encounter unexpected obstacles.
This may sound like a generalization, but we’ve always thought that more intelligent beings are a tad weird. Remember those bespectacled brainiacs in school who weren’t the most sociable beings? Remember how they effortlessly scored in all assignments and examinations? Remember how they always seemed to behave strangely, at least, from where you (assuming you are a “normal” being who couldn’t excel in tests unless you actually studied for them) stood?
This Chen Shi-Zheng directed film puts a Mainland Chinese (scholar material, nonetheless) in a Western environment and explores how he struggles to go about his life. The 85 minute picture ends with a tragic note with, gasp, people dying in a killing spree. The disturbing thing is how this tale is loosely inspired by actual events.
The film begins with a talented young student being inspired to find out how dark matter (hence the title of the film) shapes the universe we live in. A matter of ego comes between him and his professor, deterring him from materializing his dreams of being a credible astronomy academic. Although he has a supporter with another university patron, the tension of cultures will culminate in an inevitable tragedy.
Leading man Liu Ye (Curse of the Golden Flower, Connected) first broke our hearts in the award winning gay movie Lan Yu (2001). In this movie, he translates that piteous personality effectively to screen. It works especially well in this part of the world where we can feel for the Asian character coping in a foreign land. The other star to look out for is the perfect Meryl Streep (Mama Mia!, Lions for Lambs) who plays the well intending university patron. Her effortless acting makes you feel for the protagonist as she tries her very best to shield Liu from the ugliness of academic politics. Aidan Quinn (Wild Child) rounds up the reliable cast as the enigmatic professor who causes Liu to take a change of course in his life.
Just as there are many scenarios in the movie that shed light on the desperation, anxiety and ugliness of human nature, there are tender moments which stand out in ironically melancholic ways too. Watch out for a scene where Liu visits Streep in his disheveled state as a facial product salesman. The helplessness is almost too heartbreaking and distressing to watch.
Save the melodramatic ending, this movie is worth a watch, especially when we live in a time where intelligence may very well be the eventual downfall of mankind.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
There are no extra features on this Code 3 DVD.
The disc’s visual transfer retains the melancholy of the film, and the movie is presented in its original English soundtrack.
by John Li