March 6, 2008

Summer Palace


Reviewer: Maria Komodore
Rating (out of 5): ****

Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye's fourth feature Summer Palace feels very much like a French New Wave film. Using China's turbulent political years as a backdrop, the movie focuses on a small group of students - focusing on the country girl Yu Hong - attending Bejing University in the late 1980s, and the different (sometimes even conflicting) emotions they experience as the careless enthusiasm of their youth gives way to life's disenchanting realities. Emotions, it should be noted, are conveyed accurately, and most importantly non-pornographically, in the film's many explicit sexual encounters.

The great amount of nudity the film features might be one of the reasons why after it premiered in Cannes in 2006, Lou Ye was banned from making another movie in China for 5 years. But it's certainly not the only reason. Although at first it may seem as if the stories of Palace's protagonists aren't so closely connected to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the confusion and desperation with which the characters go through their lives reflects the equally confusing and restricting times the film portrays. And considering the turn their lives take after their university years, one cannot help but trace a feeling of disenchantment similar to the disillusionment that the government's violent treatment of the June Forth Incident brought upon the Chinese.

Hao Lei's beautifully expressive, physical performance as the central heroine Yu Hong, the fluid camera movements, and the evocative palette of Palace's under-lit cinematography, all compliment the film's gripping and complex subject matter, making its 140 minutes go by smoothly.

This DVD by Palm Pictures also includes an interesting "Making of Summer Palace" featurette, and an informative short piece about cinema censorship in China.

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Posted by cphillips at March 6, 2008 3:53 PM
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