Chinese film fans mourn for star

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-08-13 07:39:24

Chinese film fans mourn for star

Clockwise from top: A tribute is left at Robin Williams' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday; in 1998 after winning Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his part in Good Will Hunting; reacting to a question at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2006; on the set of ABC's Mork and Mindy in 1978. Photos by AFP / AP / Reuters

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Tributes poured in from Chinese film lovers on Tuesday after the death of US actor and comedian Robin Williams at his home in California.

The 63-year-old is thought to have committed suicide.

On Sina Weibo alone, 30 million comments had been made on one feed by Tuesday evening Beijing time.

Due to the language barrier, Williams was not well known in China for his signature rapid-fire and manic delivery of comedy. Even though Good Morning, Vietnam and Mrs. Doubtfire are widely available in the country, it is his dramatic roles in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting that endeared him to Chinese filmgoers.

Chinese director Ding Sheng saw many of Williams' works while he was still at film school.

"I never saw him as a pure comedian. He was not handsome, but he invariably imbued his roles with a unique charm. He awakened me to a special way of acting, which is slightly exaggerated but never out of place."

Ding recalled the popularity of Dead Poets Society at the Beijing Film Academy. "There is no doubt that it was a phenomenon there. People ritually flocked to see it. I tried to study its techniques, but I always ended up being carried away by the emotions it evoked."

Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung credits Williams with the awareness that "comedy is just a variation of tragedy."

Many are grieving for a star that brought so much laughter to the world but who was battling depression.

On Chinese social networks, "O Captain! My captain!" - a reference to the Walt Whitman poem that Williams' character uses in Dead Poets Society - has become a code word for shared mourning.

Some users lamented that they had never encountered a person like John Keating, a teacher of English in the movie who used unorthodox methods and encouraged independent thinking.

The quiet rebelliousness embodied by this character found a wide resonance among Chinese youngsters who grew up in a culture of conformity.

Williams, with his restrained performance, imbued the role with warmth and humanity as well as credibility. Many postings on Chinese websites mentioned the character as an archetypal mentor who would bring enlightenment.

Movies like Jumanji in 1995 were among the first to be licensed and shown on Chinese screens. Yet it is Williams' portrayal of a special type of mentor that clicked with a certain swath of Chinese society.

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