A new perspective on dreams of the '90s

"If you love him, send him to New York because it is a paradise. If you hate him, send him to New York because it is hell."

These famous lines from the 1993 hit series Beijinger in New York captivated a generation of Chinese who wanted to go abroad in the early 1990s.

Now around two decades later, a new movie takes a fresh look at that era.

New York New York, produced by award-winning Stanley Kwan, will open in Chinese mainland theaters on April 15.

Set against the backdrop of Shanghai in the early 1990s, the tale centers on the struggles of a five-star hotel's bell boy. That was the kind of career back then which was believed to be a shortcut to meeting foreigners.

The bell boy, played by Taiwan actor Ethan Juan, shares his joys and sorrows, romances and friendships with a variety of people from different backgrounds but all involved in the emigration game.

Kwan, known for his delicate touch and sharp examination of issues, says that the movie will showcase emotions that are different from Beijinger in New York.

The Hong Kong veteran says the movie is about the destination.

New York-despite its 14,500-kilometer distance from Shanghai-was a somewhat iconic metropolis representing affluence and hope to Chinese in early 1990s, Kwan tells China Daily during a promotional event recently.

"New York then meant new knowledge to many Chinese. For most youth in the 1990s, (moving to) the United States and the city equalled realizing dreams ... whether economic or personal," says Kwan.

He recalls shooting Center Stage, a biopic chronicling the life of Chinese silent-film actress Ruan Lingyu in Shanghai in 1991, which gave him new insight into the city and its people.

Center Stage, directed by Kwan, has won lead star Maggie Cheung several best- actress awards, including one at the 42nd Berlin International Film Festival.

Kwan says the making of the film led to him meeting scores of people in Shanghai's luxury hotels, and inspired the new movie's sets.

"And there was a disco called New York New York in Shanghai in the early 1990s," Kwan says, adding the movie's title was inspired by the disco.

Luo Dong, the director-also the still supervisor in Kwan's 2001 hit Lan Yu-says that the movie was inspired by the personal stories of his acquaintances.

"The years between the late 1980s and the early 1990s saw China's rapid development," he says.

"Many people then faced different choices, which resulted in different ends. The stories were touching and I wanted to recreate the struggles and choices from that era," says Luo.

For the Chinese who were young in the 1990s, they can revel in nostalgia with Hong Kong stars Michael Miu and Cecilia Yip, respectively, playing a businessman back from the US and a Shanghai nightclub owner in New York New York.

Miu, who shot to prominence in the 1983 martial arts series The Legend of the Condor Heroes, and Yip, famous for the 1992 hit musical drama The Legend of White Snake, are both cultural icons for a particular generation.

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