Dark Matter
Theatrical release poster
Directed byChen Shi-zheng
Written byBilly Shebar
Produced byJanet Yang
Mary Salter
Andrea Miller
StarringLiu Ye
Aidan Quinn
Meryl Streep
Release dates
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$69,379[1]

Dark Matter is a 2007 American drama film and the first feature film by opera director Chen Shi-zheng, starring Liu Ye, Aidan Quinn and Meryl Streep. Liu Ye plays a young scientist whose rising star must confront the dark forces of politics, ego, and cultural insensitivity. The film is loosely based on the University of Iowa shooting.

The film premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize.[2]


The film is inspired by the true story of Gang Lu, a former 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.

Liu Xing (Liu Ye) is 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. Without Professor Reiser's approval, Liu Xing proposes to research dark matter for his doctoral dissertation. Reiser explains to Xing that this type of research is too complicated and suggests that he should pick a simpler 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 he refuses to speak in Mandarin with them. Feng changes his name to Laurence so that Americans would be more comfortable pronouncing his name.

Without the permission of Professor Reiser, Xing publishes an article in an astronomy journal. Reiser is enraged by this and refuses to accept Xing's doctoral dissertation.

At a graduation party for the Chinese students it is announced that Laurence Feng has won the university's Gell-Mann honorary doctorate 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. Professor Reiser also attempts to belittle Xing by telling Silver that Xing is not a "team player."

Xing does not graduate and finds his dream of winning the Nobel Prize shattered. He goes on to sell beauty products to try to make money. His roommate offers to find him a job in China, but Xing refuses to leave. A few months pass and Xing mails all of his money (a check for ten thousand dollars) to his parents in China.

One day, Xing returns to campus. He heads into an auditorium where Laurence Feng is giving a presentation to the cosmology department. Unable to cope with his emotions, Xing pulls a revolver out of his coat and begins firing, shooting Laurence and Reiser before making his way to Reiser's office and shooting himself in the head.



This film's general U.S. release date, originally set for April 2007, was pushed back over a year because its plot line of an East Asian student involved in a mass shooting on a U.S. college campus too closely resembled the Virginia Tech shooting.[3] It was finally released in the US market in April 2008.


Box office

Dark Matter grossed $30,591 in the United States and Canada[4] and $38,788 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $69,379.[1]

Critical reception

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 40% based on 40 reviews, with an average rating of 4.99/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "The creaky plotting, inscrutable characters, and unconvincing ending make it difficult for audiences to connect with Dark Matter".[5] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 49 out of 100, based on 16 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[6]


  1. ^ a b "Dark Matter". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  2. ^ "Sundance Tuesday".
  3. ^ nbcnews.com, Streep film delayed because of campus shooting, updated 5:37 p.m. ET, Fri., Feb. 15, 2008
  4. ^ "Dark Matter (2018) - Financial Information". The Numbers, Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  5. ^ "Dark Matter (2019)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  6. ^ "Dark Matter Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
Awards Preceded byThe House of Sand Alfred P. Sloan Prize Winner 2007 Succeeded bySleep Dealer