Harlem Underground and TIFF2013: American Dreams in China

Right on the heels of my first TIFF film, I got up early on Saturday to see American Dreams in China at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 with another group of friends. 

Shot by superstar cinematographer Christopher Doyle and dubbed “the Chinese Social Network“, this epic tale of business bravado follows three friends who launch a successful online English instruction school for Chinese students — and then face lawsuits over copyright infringement.

This film produced a lot of interesting discussions with me and my friends. What follows now is an unorganized mess of a review and some of our thoughts. Sorry! :P

Personally, I’m pretty interested in perspective matters of identity negotiation, language, and media representations; so the content of this movie was right up my alley. My friends and I talked a lot about whole concept of the American Dream and what we thought of it in relation to where we currently are in our own lives and personal experiences. The tutoring academy in the movie instructs its young Chinese pupils to “think in American English”. The whole phenomenon of learning English and being accepted – something so many of us native English speakers simply take for granted – is huge social capital for people as a definitive measurement of success, power, achievement. Having been an ESL teacher in Korea for a while, I enjoyed seeing that process on screen.

There were still quite a few uncomfortably heavy Chinese supremacy sentiments, especially in the end, but the film touched the surface of so many real and interesting issues for me. I liked going through the stories of the main characters just struggling and figuring out their lives, their dreams, their friendship. The whole copyright case put their experiences into a larger context of culture clash.

The film is loosely based on an actual Chinese private education institution listed on the New York stock exchange called New Oriental. Here’s a review of the film I enjoyed reading on the topics of capitalism, China, and copyright theft.

Moving on! After the movie, we we walked along Queen Street West looking for brunch and stumbled upon Harlem Underground – great find! Super friendly staff and everything on their menu sounded amazing. It was my first time eating a pretty decadent meal of fried chicken and waffles~ :O


The lunch menu.


Chicken and waffles!

All in all, another TIFF + meal outing success! Can’t wait to make this an annual tradition. Having to catch a weekend bus at 6:45am wasn’t fun, but we ended up getting a lot out of the movie and had a great brunch, city walk, and life talks – so it’s all good. :)

Update: American Dreams in China made #4 on BlogTO’s list of best movies at TIFF this year.


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