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  March 19th, 2012       Posted by Frederik       Display Comments

The movie of the week is “Dark Matter”, the 2007 feature film debut by opera director Shi-Zheng Chen. The film is little known and even lesser reviewed since its theatrical release collided with the killing spree at the Polytechnic Institute and the State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Its original release was pushed back to an unnoticed release in 2008. As always, production notes and review after the cut. The image library has been updated with new screencaptures and the video archive with three clips from the film. Please let me know what you thought of “Dark Matter” in the comments.


Production Notes

The film is loosely inspired by the true story of Gang Lu, who killed four members and one student at the University of Iowa in November 1991. infuriated because his dissertation, Study of the “Critical Ionization Velocity” Effect by Particle-in-Cell, did not receive the prestigious D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize. This prize included a monetary award of $2,500. Lu believed that winning the prize would have made it easier for him to get hired as a professor. On November 1, 1991, Gang Lu attended a physics and astronomy department meeting and shot four members of the department shortly after the meeting began. He then shot the the associate vice president for academic affairs before commiting suicide. This is the story that “Dark Matter” is based on. The film premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. Ironically, in the worst sense of the word, shortly before the film’s theatrical release in April 2007, a Chinese student killed 32 people and wounded 25 others on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. The massacre is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history. So due to its similarities, the film’s distributors shelved the movie out of respect for the Virginia Tech incident. A year later, “Dark Matter” received a limited release to little notice, since there was no promotion for the film. It released on DVD in the USA and Europe throughout 2008 and 2009.

Frederik’s Review

I found the film lengthy, which is unfortunate for a storyline so recent and important. It just mildly touches the aspects that lead to Xing’s horrible acts – the pressure, the upbringing, the bullying through his professor – but it doesn’t really invest deeply into any of these fields. Nor does it invest in his character. You see what he feels, but somehow you don’t feel it. At the end of the film you can only guess why this is his last way out. And that left me unsatisfied. Since there hasn’t been any promotion for the film, one can only guess what drew Meryl to this. Maybe her interest in China and its culutre, maybe her admiration for director and the opera, maybe both. But I feel that it was her involvement that got the film financed in the beginning. Her character Joanna, a devotee of the culture and the Japan students, isn’t really nescessary for the film. Sure she adds an amount of depth to the film and her scenes with Liu Ye are very touching, especially the last scene when she tries not to show her sadness about him having lost his future as a scientist. But still, there’s no pace to this film. Many scenes are disrupted by music that doesn’t really fit. More than once you realise that Shi-Zheng Chen, the film’s director, has his roots in the opera. Maybe the story would have worked there. But as a film, I unfortunately didn’t enjoy it that much.




  • Emily

    I love this movie, Meryl’s character is just great and so peaceful

  • Emelie

    I like her character in this movie, though I really don’t find the movie very amusing. I don’t really get the whole story. And as the second comment from the top, she really couldn’t save the movie, I thought it’d make me like it more but it didn’t.

  • Heather Burdett

    I actually thoroughly enjoyed this film. It is unusual, but Meryl plays a very sensitive part and her relationship with the boy is very touching.

  • Chlora

    It’s interesting that you say you felt Joanna was superfluous to the plot. For me the most engaging part of the film was the relationship between Joanna and Xing — how badly they wanted to be close, and how totally they were just never on the same page. It amplified the tragedy, for me, that he had this very sweet, misguided friend who loved him desperately and wanted to help him, but who just didn’t have any clue how to go about doing that. Somehow this just underscored how alone he was in America, that even someone who was trying to understand him wasn’t able to break through.

    I agree with you about the rest of the movie, however. Everything felt so forced; the snippets about his parents were so pointed; really everything was so spelled out, and then it cut to him looking lost and sad. It felt like I was just reading the headlines of his life, when I wanted to be going along for the ride.

  • Esther

    that’s one wierd movie, I gotta say. I maneged to watch it trough, but if it hadn’t been for Meryl I most certainly would have turned it off after 15 minutes.

  • Andrew

    I watched a copy of this movie and it was only on for about 80 minutes so I don’t know whether it was a complete copy of it or not. I quite enjoyed watching the film and the way it examined a group of Chinese students studying at an American university.

  • Denise

    I’ve seen better movies with Meryl.
    She’s such great as always but if I would imagine the movie without
    her it would be not good.
    I think there are too many effects and stuff.
    But through Meryls performance it has become ways better :)

  • rick

    You summed it up very well for me, too… I did not enjoy the movie at all. Even Streep couldn’t save this one.

  • Marc

    As a huge Meryl fan, I was quite excited to see this DVD for sale about 2 years ago at a local store. I bought the DVD, however, was disappointed in the movie overall. I enjoy watching Meryl in her movies, but this movie didn’t capture my attention at all. Nothing against Meryl; it was just a bad movie, in my opinion.

  • lcm

    This movie wasn’t released in French theaters, so I bought the R1 DVD, and I didn’t like this movie, to be honest this is the only Meryl Streep’s movie I don’t like (I thought the worst was The House Of The Spirits, but I was wrong!)!! I just saw it once, and it was boring!! Still got the DVD but I’ll never watch it again! You are right when you said that her character wasn’t nescessary for the film! I mean Miss Streep is great as usual, but it far to be a chef d’oeuvre……

    Frederick, I really like those posts : movie of the week. This web site is great, so I want to thank you!

  • Jane

    This is one of 5 Meryl movies that I haven’t seen yet and I would say it is her least-known work, especially considering that it is quite recent.
    The story is not particularly uplifting and it seems to me the sun never shines but from what I’ve seen Meryl has some very emotional and touching scenes. It doesn’t seem to be a movie that calls for her talent but I would love to see it anyway – although I have to say I really don’t like her hair in this ;-)

  • Tena

    I had to track down this one after it came out on video….. but it was worth seeing! I agree that the movie itself is not that good; the subject matter alone is just too sad. But, like everything she’s in…… it’s totally worth watching just for Meryl’s performance. Her character is warm and touching and as always, Meryl brings a welcome depth to the film. Two more selling points: Meryl’s character has crazy hair and, as we all know….. the worlds greatest face! For the true Meryl fans…. you won’t want to miss this one.