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  Publicity Stills of "Summer Palace"
Courtesy of Shaw

In Mandarin & German
Director: Lou Ye
Starring: Hao Lei, Guo Xiaodong, Hu Ling, Zhang Xianmin
RunTime: 2 hrs 20 mins
Released By: Shaw & Festive Films
Rating: R21
Official Website: www.festivefilms.com/palace

Opening Day: 3 May 2007 (exclusively at Shaw Lido / Shaw Balestier / Cathay Cineplex Orchard / The Cathay / GV Vivocity / Golden)


China, 1989

Two young lovers play out their complex, erotic, love/hate relationship against a volatile backdrop of political unrest.

Beautiful Yu Hong leaves her village, her family and her boyfriend to study in Beijing, where she discovers a world of intense sexual and emotional experimentation, and falls madly in love with fellow student Zhou Wei. Their relationship becomes one of dangerous games, as all around them their fellow students begin to demonstrate, demanding democracy and freedom.

Lou Ye (Suzhou River, Purple Butterfly) reveals a portrait of a place and a generation – China and liberated Chinese youth – as never seen before in the West.

By turns lyrical and brutal, elegiac and erotic, SUMMER PALACE depicts a passionate love story and the struggle for personal liberty jeopardized by history and fate.

Movie Review:

It’s a shame that Lou Ye’s “Summer Palace” finds its head and heart in too many places at once. Using the backdrop of China’s bourgeoning social and political upheavals, romance and sensuality blossom and subsequently wither between Beijing students. A pensively dreary mood pervades its implicit study of contemporary Chinese history through the personal growth of Yu Hong (Hao Lei), a provincial lass who diffidently sheds that aspect of her life, including a childhood sweetheart and heads on to big city living by attending Beijing University in 1987 where she finds the rest of her life waiting.

Despite rejecting the temptation to join the spate of anti-agitprop films emanating from a new wave of Chinese directors, Lou Ye’s invokes the restless political zeitgeist of the era to develop his characters’ foray into adulthood and their complicity in its generation’s evolving ideals that were heedlessly being driven into disillusionment by an inability to focus its euphoric states of cataclysms. Lou endeavours to repurpose the political climate of the country with the destructive and capricious nature of human interactions and dorm room politicking.

Attempting to use these relationships to elucidate parallels between physical liberation and emotional repression, Lou’s directorial potency lies in the ability to craft intense and philosophically poignant sequences between his characters just through the understanding of the preceding context. He makes up for the overt pacification of his young lovers’ lack of emotional responses by the film’s explicit displays of sexuality, a trait shared by the story’s ingénue, Yu, and her friends who Forrest Gump their way through crucial sociopolitical events in the 80s and 90s in China and Europe.

It’s hard to distinguish Lou’s film from merely being an uncompromising love story and from his almost obligatory social commentary by fecklessly situating his character’s turmoil with a convenient political allegory. Already drawing criticisms and repercussions from the Chinese government when the film was shown in Cannes without authorisation from his motherland, the political spotlights are already aimed at “Summer Palace”. It could possibly recall “The Dreamers” in its looming thematic concerns but unlike Bertolucci’s canvassing of the vive-le-revolución backdrop, Lou does tend to trivialise the headlong collision of ideologies between youthful expressionism so as to reaffirm his audacity in depicting the ineffable Tiananmen Square event in ’89. The artifice he constructs through his milieu is only enhanced by an enchanting performance by his leading lady. Hao brings a truth and vulnerability to her role that plays on a level far above the movie itself languors in.

Movie Rating:

(Genuinely well intentioned but its messy, indecisive running time and haphazard storytelling sullies the film’s gorgeous visuals)

Review by Justin Deimen


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