Friday, August 4, 2023

[Review] Community groups bring Sight, autobiographical film about Dr. Ming Wang, to Pittsburgh for two days of advance screenings, August 5 and 6.

[Note: Organizers asked me to write a review of the movie Sight ahead of the public screenings on August 5 and 6, and I happily obliged. I will attempt a fuller write-up ahead of its wider theatrical release in October.]

"The present is made possible by the past" is a common refrain among characters in Sight, a new movie based on the life (and the 2016 autobiography) of pioneering laser eye surgeon Dr. Ming Wang. It's the ghosts of this past, particularly past traumas from the Cultural Revolution, that push Wang's efforts to help the blind see in Sight, both literally and figuratively.

Sight is based on the true story of eye surgeon Dr. Ming Wang, and his autobiography From Darkness to Sight: A Journey from Hardship to Healing. Starring Terry Chen (Almost Famous, Falling) as Dr. Wang and Greg Kinnear as godfather and mentor Misha Bartnovsky, it traces his life from poverty in Hangzhou through superlative success on the college entrance exam to late-night study sessions at MIT to his reputation as a "miracle worker."  It was filmed in 2021 and spent nearly two years in distribution limbo before this summer’s barnstorming promotional tour. Sight will have three free advance screenings in Pittsburgh on August 5 and 6 before returning to theatres nationwide from October 27.

The plot jumps between the Nashville of today and the Hangzhou of the 1960s and 1970s, where the Cultural Revolution dismantles the education system, among other "olds" that represent an outdated China. This upheaval puts an end to Wang's studies, and he plans to join a travelling musical propaganda troupe in order to avoid deportation and labor camps. This plan is squashed just as abruptly, and his inability to save his girlfriend from a mob of Red Guards haunts him in his career as an eye surgeon in Nashville, when he reveals to Bartnovsky that by saving his blind, orphaned patients he may feel some redemption for not saving Lili. And it's another frightening image of his past---a fetus in a laboratory jar---that inspires his groundbreaking treatment of a Moldavan orphan.  In Nashville, Wang struggles with feelings of guilt from the past that bleed into his present, particularly his team's inability to save the sight of a six-year-old Indian girl intentionally blinded by her step-mother.
Lead actor Terry Chen commented in an earlier interview that Sight is an immigrant story, and Wang himself has emphasized it's also an American story; he seems particularly keen to broaden the types of Chinese- and Asian-American stories told in American movies, which have tended to be limited to martial artists and wise elders. (On the note of representation and opportunities in domestic media, the film has a few strong performances from a Chinese-American supporting cast, like Ben Wang as a young Dr. Wang, Danni Wang as Dr. Wang's future wife, and Jeffrey Pai as a Red Guard leader.) The lessons of sacrifice, perseverance, and patience will resonate among viewers sensitive to immigrant---well, to American---stories, but the movie will probably be most enthusiastically received by those moved by stories of Christian faith, which have been director Andrew Hyatt's specialty in recent years.  (Indeed, the movie was named "Best Picture" and "Best Theatrical Release" by International Christian Visual Media this year.)

There will be three advance screenings in Pittsburgh this weekend, each followed by a Q&A with Dr. Wang: at the University of Pittsburgh’s David Lawrence Hall on August 5 and 6 from 1:30 to 4:30 pm, and at the Allison Park Church – Hampton Campus on August 5 from 7:30 to 10:30 pm. The screenings are free but registration is required.

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