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SEPTEMBER 25, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 12

An Autumn's Tale
Despite mixed reviews for her new film, former actress Joan Chen has made it onto the Elite list of Asian directors in demand in Hollywood

COVER: Enough Is Enough
After a deadly and mysterious bomb attack at Jakarta's stock exchange, citizens are desperate for President Wahid to take decisive action to restore stability
Sick Man of Asia: Just how ill is Suharto?
Interview: The Defense Minister sees conspiracies
Outside Help: Can the world do anything to bring peace?

TIME at the Olympics: Sydney 2000
TIMEasia, TIMEeurope, TIMEpacific and bring you our take on the first Olympics of the new millennium

Highlights from the first few days

JAPAN: Fighting Back
Despite the appearance of dedicated service, the nation's consumers have long had a raw deal. But a series of product mishaps has prompted activists to challenge the giants
Viewpoint: The consumer movement is working

Fed up with delays and more kidnappings, Manila launches a military assault to free hostages held by Muslim rebels

PAKISTAN: You Can't Go Home Again
Politics blocks the return of Bengali refugees to Bangladesh


Who's Cool In a Hot Medium

ESPIONAGE: Dumb and Dumber

The collapse of the government's case against nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee has authorities looking foolish—and reckless
Asian America: The Lee case highlights discrimination

CINEMA: The First Empress

With a new movie starring Richard Gere, actress Joan Chen takes on a new role as a Hollywood director

Talk Can Be Cheap for Tech-Savvy Travelers

Joan Chen is one brave woman. Two years ago she dodged Chinese authorities so that she could film her directorial debut, Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl in troubled Tibet and elsewhere in China—only to be fined $100,000 for her efforts and banned from shooting in her homeland until she paid up. The fine remains outstanding, though it has since been reduced to $50,000. China's doors are still closed.

But the film also gave Chen an unexpected opening. On the strength of Xiu Xiu's critical acclaim, MGM offered the novice director a crack at a big-budget, big-name Hollywood feature—the winsome Autumn in New York, starring Richard Gere and Winona Ryder, which opens across Asia over the next few weeks. The job was anything but a lock. "The studio was changing leadership at that time, so I had to have about eight meetings with eight different people over the course of several months," says Chen. At one point, MGM actually dropped her in favor of another director—whom she declines to name—who subsequently pulled out. But Chen is accustomed to neck-snapping twists of fate. The 39-year-old Shanghai native came out of nowhere to light up Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 The Last Emperor, only to stoop a year later to clubbing neanderthals alongside Rutger Hauer in The Blood of Heroes. Prior to Xiu Xiu, her career had hit the skids. Inexplicably. Says Ang Lee, the acclaimed director: "When I first met Joan after Emperor, she was the hottest actress in China. Why she never got offered better parts after that I don't know. For me she's a big, big star." But she has made a smooth transition into the director's chair, quickly joining the ranks of the small clutch of in-demand Asian filmmakers in Hollywood, a short list that includes Lee, John Woo and Wayne Wang. "They say that Chinese women hold up half of the sky," says her mentor, Bertolucci. "That's what I see with Joan. To have watched her as an actor and now to see this new enrichment as a director is very special."

Chen's newfound success comes with a price. Unlike Xiu Xiu, which she funded mostly herself, Chen now has to answer constantly to the whims of studio higher-ups. "I arrived like a rock and left feeling more like a pebble," Chen recalls about the experience of filming Autumn in New York. "There's nothing more depressing than being reminded that you've been hired to do a job for someone else. I was a salary horse, and I felt completely eroded." By the end of the 43-day shoot, Chen found herself dashing off e-mails to fellow director Francis Ford Coppola looking for solace. "I told him I thought I'd really made a piece of s--t, and that I'm not worth the rice that I eat. He was wonderful. He told me the film had a lot of redeeming qualities that would endure when the attention was long gone. That was very comforting."

The film charts the relationship between Will Keane (Gere), a suave, urbane, 50-year-old restaurant proprietor who lives for sexual conquest, and Charlotte Fielding (Ryder), a 21-year-old adventure-seeking free spirit, who hasn't much time left on the planet but challenges Keane to bare his soul and lose the shtick. "I wanted a mood piece," says Chen, "one that told a love story in a traditional and classical fashion without all the schmaltz. But I was worried about the reaction to that."

Initial responses seemed to confirm Chen's worst fears: MGM even took the unusual step of not screening Autumn for the press, often an indication of a lack of confidence in a film. Chen says she was given no explanation for the action. Early reviews were not positive, but were virtually unanimous in applauding Chen's lush depiction of New York. "For me New York is the city of windows," says Chen. "You come from Tibet where the horizon is endless and find in New York it's so tiny. But it's vertical and the light dances." The movie has already grossed $35 million in the U.S. alone in its first five weeks.

Whatever Autumn's ultimate fortune, Chen is in the spring of her career. She has an independent project on her schedule for next year, based on author Yan Geling's The Lost Daughter of Happiness. And MGM has offered her another deal: to refashion French director Gilles Mimouni's L'Appartement, a romantic mystery about mistaken identity. "It's about the fickleness of infatuation, how there are a few people who fight their destiny," says Chen. "They are the ones who make stories." That's fighting talk from a proud, passionate lady, who has already defied fate—and expectations—more than once.

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