Review: The Road to Fame (Wu, 2013) – CAAMFest 2014

Still from the movie The Road to Fame

The third and final movie we saw at CAAMFest this year was The Road to Fame. The documentary showcases several students from China’s Central Academy of Drama, the most prestigious acting school in the country, graduating the likes of Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li. The students are acting in the “first collaboration between China and Broadway,” a musical called Fame, adapted for the Chinese language (though some lyrics appear to still be in English).

Drama students anywhere make for fascinating material, but drama students in Beijing are even more riveting. You get such desire, yearning, struggle, and disappointment. It’s the reason we watch reality TV shows such as American Idol, except the dreams in this film feel more urgent, almost a matter of life and death. For some of the students succeeding here is about survival. For others it may be a mere footnote to the rampant luxury in their lives, second to their enormous shoe collections.

All of this is set against the omnipresent backdrop of China’s infamous One Child Policy. On top of the normal stress of graduating and finding a job in the impossibly competitive entertainment industry, the youth are also struggling with the enormous pressures and expectations put upon them by their families. As one drama professor noted, these kids often have six pairs of eyes (two parents, four grandparents) trained on just them.

Still, while the documentary is enjoyable, I’m not sure it offers anything that surprising to the viewer. It’s a solid film with charming subjects, but it stays mostly on the surface of its topic. But not every documentary can be The Act of Killing. Overall: an entertaining way to be spend an evening.

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