Dark Matter (film)

Dark Matter (film)
Dark Matter

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Chen Shi-zheng
Produced by Janet Yang
Mary Salter
Andrea Miller
Written by Billy Shebar
Starring Liu Ye
Aidan Quinn
Meryl Streep
Release date(s) 2007 Sundance Film Festival
April, 2008
Running time 90 min
Country United States
Language English

Dark Matter is the first feature film by opera director Chen Shi-zheng, starring Liu Ye, Aidan Quinn and Meryl Streep. It won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

Liu Ye plays a young scientist whose rising star must confront the dark forces of politics, ego, and cultural insensitivity. The film is based on true events.


Plot summary

The film is loosely inspired by the true story of Gang Lu, a Chinese physics graduate student who killed four faculty members and one student at the University of Iowa. However, the story has substantial differences in plot and character motivation.

The film stars Liu Xing (Liu Ye) as a humble but brilliant Chinese student who arrives at Valley State University and makes a bumpy transition into American life with the help of Joanna Silver (Meryl Streep). Silver is a wealthy university patron who has a fascination with Chinese culture and takes a liking to Liu Xing. Xing joins a select cosmology group under the direction of his hero, the famous cosmologist Professor Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn). The group is working to create a model of the origins of the universe, based on Reiser's theory. Xing's enormous talent leads him quickly to become Reiser's protégé, and it seems that only hard work stands between him and a bright future in science.

Xing is obsessed with the study of dark matter, an unseen substance that he believes shapes the universe, and a theory that conflicts with the Reiser model. Xing makes scientific breakthroughs of his own which improve the Reiser model. Even though it would challenge Professor Reiser's work, Liu Xing proposes to research the dark matter "problem" for his doctoral dissertation. Reiser suggests to Xing that this type of research is too complicated and that he should pick a more simple dissertation topic.

Refusing to work with Xing, Reiser finds a new protégé in Feng Gang (Lloyd Suh), another Chinese student who was Xing's rival in undergraduate school in Beijing. Professor Reiser approves of Feng's dissertation proposal as it sticks to the Reiser model. Feng's English skills are far superior to his fellow Chinese students' and refuses to speak in Mandarin with them. Feng changes his name to Laurence and his wife changes her name to Cindy in order to be more American. Later on Laurence and Cindy have their child baptized in a local church.

Without the permission of Professor Reiser, Xing has a paper published in an astronomy journal. In a spiteful act, Reiser refuses to accept Xing's dissertation and does not allow him to receive his Ph.D.

At a graduation party for the Chinese students it is announced that Laurence Feng has won the university's science dissertation prize for that year. Joanna Silver urges Professor Reiser to do something to help Liu Xing. Reiser informs her that he has written a "very fine" recommendation for him.

With his dream of winning the Nobel Prize shattered, Xing finds work in selling beauty products. His roommate offers to try to help him find a job back in China but Xing refuses to leave. A few months pass and Xing mails all of the money he has earned to his parents in China.

No longer able to deal with the indignation, Xing returns to campus. He heads into an auditorium where Laurence Feng is giving a presentation to the cosmology department. Enraged by the way he was mistreated, Xing takes a revolver out of his coat and begins shooting. Feng is shot first in the face. Xing then turns to Reiser and fires a bullet into his former hero's forehead. While the audience is running for the door, Xing manages to shoot Professor Colby in the back. Xing finds the third member of his committee crawling on the floor and guns him down before he can escape.

After the shooting, Cindy Feng attempts to speak to Xing while he is leaving. Ignoring her, Xing makes his way to Professor Reiser's office and takes his own life.


No official soundtrack has been released. Here is a list of songs and production music featured in the film according to the end credits.[1]

  • From 00:00:24 to 00:02:17, the song "Nostalgia" is used when Joanna Silver is playing T'ai chi ch'uan and Liu Xing is waiting to see Professor Jacob Reiser. It is performed by the Beijing Angelic Choir. It is Track 13 from the choir's album "Praying" released by Wind Music. The name of this song should rather be known as "Going Home." It is based on Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor 'From The New World', Op. 95 - II. Largo.
  • From 00:03:46 to 00:04:44, a lute version of the said music "Going Home" is used when Liu Xing finishes the meeting with Professor Jacob Reiser and is greeted by his secretary. It ends after Liu Xing enters the Cosmology Research Group and sits down putting a floppy into the computer. It is unknown who performs the music.
  • From 00:05:07 to 00:05:25, the music "Square Wheels" is played when Liu Xing leaves the campus and goes back to his apartment. It is written by Simon Stewart and published by De Wolfe Music (ASCAP), known as American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
  • From 00:05:59 to 00:06:34, the music "Gettin' it On" is played when a porn movie is airing after Liu Xing's roommate manages to hook up the antenna. The music is said to be an 80's porn theme with sax, flutes & synth. "Funky" as advertised. It is written by Richard Boisson and published by ZFC Music (ASCAP), under license from FirstCom Music.
  • From 00:09:39 to 00:10:01, a production music called "High Noon" is used when Liu Xing is ready to enter a "duel" with three other Chinese students dressed in cowboy costume. It is provided by APM Music LLC.
  • From 00:10:05 to 00:10:08, the very beginning of the production music "Hot Desert" is used when the Chinese cowboys prepare to pull out their guns to duel. It is written by Tim Souster and published by Hudson Music (ASCAP), under License from De Wolfe Music.
  • From 00:10:10 to 00:10:22, another western-styled music is played when Liu Xing and the other Chinese cowboys start to shoot at the other. The name of this music is not yet known.
  • From 00:11:28 to 00:12:13, instrumentals of Bryan Bowers' version of "Red River Valley" is heard when Liu Xing is doing his studies and printing out his discovery. It is under license from Flying Fish / Rounder Records.
  • From 00:15:33 to 00:16:06, Beijing Angelic Choir's "Old Black Joe" is used when Liu Xing is taking time off and having fun with his roommates. It is Track 3 from the choir's album "Praying" under license from Wind Music.
  • From 00:18:43 to 00:19:42, the first movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Symphony No. 29 in A Major K. 201" is performed by the Unique Tracks Radio Orchestra when Liu Xing finishes the toast and explains dark matter to Joanna Silver.
  • From 00:20:27 to 00:21:17, "Guantanamera" is performed by Joseíto Fernández when Liu Xing is having fun with his roommates and Liu Xing proposes a toast to himself, saying he is going to successfully tackle the dark matter issue and marry a white American girl.
  • From 00:21:21 to 00:23:43, some disco-styled music is heard when Liu Xing goes into Beehive Tearoom and tries to hit on the tea lady. The name of this music is not yet known.
  • From 00:33:23 to 00:33:43, the very beginning of the song "Bird Gehrl" is heard when Liu Xing is contemplating on the campus. It is composed by Antony Hegarty and performed by Antony and the Johnsons. It is Track 10 from the album "I'm a Bird Now."
  • From 00:35:28 to 00:36:52, the production music titled "Shenandoah" under license from 5 Alarm Music is used when Liu Xing is reading on campus. The music ends when Liu Xing confronts with his colleague Feng Gang/Lawrence.
  • From 00:45:53 to 00:46:15, some unknown production music is used when Liu Xing comes up with the idea how to tackle the dark matter issue and rushes to school to share his breakthrough with Professor Reiser.
  • From 00:48:16 to 00:49:10, Beijing Angelic Choir's "Beautiful Dreamer" is used when Liu Xing walks in a wide-open field. It is Track 7 from the choir's album "Beautiful Dreamer" released by Wind Music.
  • From 00:49:50 to 00:51:10, "La Rejouissance" under license from Cavendish Music / Non Stop Music can slightly be heard when Joanna Silver takes Liu Xing to a clothing store to check out a shirt for his dissertation presentation.
  • From 00:52:14 to 00:52:45, VooDoo & Serano's "Cold Blood" is heard when Liu Xing awaits to give his dissertation presentation while his roommates are holding a party to congratulate his wouldbe ascension to PhD. It is written by Reinhard Raith and Andreas Litterscheid.
  • From 00:54:50 to 00:55:16, "Cold Blood" is heard again when Liu Xing's dissertation presentation is rebuked.
  • From 00:58:37 to 01:00:45, the song "Soft Black Stars" is heard when Liu Xing contemplates about his future and goes to the tea lady to express his feelings towards her and gets rejected. It is composed by David Tibet and performed by Antony and the Johnsons from the single "I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy."
  • From 01:11:54 to 01:14:27, Beijing Angelic Choir's "Long Long Ago" is used when Liu Xing leaves Joanna Silver's house, failing to sell her the skin care products. He then writes a check bearing his savings over the years to his parents. It is Track 13 from the choir's album "Praying" released by Wind Music.
  • From 01:14:57 to 01:19:48, Beijing Angelic Choir's "Serenade" is used when Liu Xing goes to Feng Gang/Lawrence's presentation, killing four people. It is Track 13 from the choir's album "Wild Roses" released by Wind Music. The music itself is originally composed by Franz Schubert.
  • Throughout the end credits, "This Land is Your Land" is used. It is written by Woody Guthrie and performed by Sharon Jones. The song is published by Ludlow Music.

So far, four pieces of music listed in the end credits cannot be identified. They could have been used in the said unidenfiable interval between 00:10:10 to 00:10:22 and 00:21:21 to 00:23:43. They are known as:

  • "Hombre" written by John Leach and published by Hudson Music (ASCAP); under license from De Wolfe Music
  • "Cappuccino" under license from 5 Alarm Music
  • "Deep Thought" under license from 5 Alarm Music


This film's general US release date, originally set for April 2007, was pushed back over a year because its plot line of an Asian student involved in a mass shooting on a US college campus too closely resembled the Virginia Tech massacre.[2] It was finally released in the US market in April 2008.

Critical reception

At the Sundance Film Festival in January, “Dark Matter,” a fictional account inspired by the shootings, won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize for the best feature film dealing with science or technology — “not a genre that attracts a lot of people to work on,” in the words of Brian Greene, a physicist, mathematician and author from Columbia University who was on the panel of judges.

Critics gave the film generally negative to mixed reviews. As of April 11, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 32% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 19 reviews.[3] Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 49 out of 100, based on 7 reviews.[4]

See also


External links

Preceded by
The House of Sand
Alfred P. Sloan Prize Winner
Succeeded by
Sleep Dealer

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