It was Mao himself who founded China’s prestigious Central Academy of Drama in 1949, knowing very well how the arts can move, educate, and manipulate the people. Yet the chairman would turn in his grave if he knew that, half a century later, the Academy is proudly entering a cooperative venture with the biggest commercial theater industry worldwide – Broadway, America’s Great White Way.
The Road to Fame tells a unique story of coming-of-age with Chinese characteristics.
The film chronicles the staging of the American musical Fame – China’s first official collaboration with Broadway – by the senior class at China’s top drama academy as their graduation showcase. During the eight-month process, five students compete for roles, struggle with pressure from family and authority, and prepare to graduate into a cutthroat and corrupt show business.
Part of China’s Single-Child generation, they were spoiled growing up but are now obliged to carry on the failed dreams of their parents. They must confront complex social realities and their own anxieties, and, in the process of staging Fame, negotiate their own definitions of and paths to success in today’s China. And while the Drama Academy has been known for producing world-class performers in the past – Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi among them – nowadays, graduating students struggle hard to make a living in the entertainment industry.
The Road to Fame eschews the need to prematurely anticipate the outcome of the subjects’ quest for fame. Instead, director Hao Wu repeatedly introduces unexpected character traits and narrative turns into the film, and he hereby shifts our personal preferences for specific personae. Originally trained as a molecular biologist, Wu proves himself as a skilled documentarian with a fine taste for polarizing characters while he never loses the big picture: the pressures, hopes, and desires of a young generation of only children in a country that has endured an almost unhealthy share of global attention throughout the last two decades.