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Monday, June 11, 2012

頤和園 Yihe yuan (Summer Palace)


Lou Ye's films have eluded me but finally I was able to watch this 2006 Cannes in competition film and I was not prepared for what I watched at all. I really love what I call non-commercial Chinese cinema especially from those directors in the so-called The Fifth Generation (like Zhang Yimou, for example) and The Sixth Generation (like Jia Zhangke) that I believe have a peculiar and particular style in their films. But if one director blows completely my mind is Wong Kar-wai with his unique style to tell so-called moody romance stories; well, that's it until I saw this movie.

According to what I read, Lou Ye belongs to The Six Generation and yes I can see the impressive realistic style in this movie as more than once gives the impression of watching cinéma vérité but this movie has something else that I have seen not before in Chinese movies much less in the work of The Six Generation directors I have seen. First there is a clear drama with an intense-love story that abounds elsewhere but not among Chinese filmmakers; so intense, both in story as in visuals, that film seems to me like a fusion of European (more French) style with Chinese style and believe me, the end result is amazing if you love both styles. Second, love/sex scenes are so visually explicit and raw that definitively I have not seen anything similar in "good" Chinese cinema, not even in the explicit sex scenes of Ang Lee's Lust, Caution. Third, movie story mixes fiction and reality creating an illusion that perhaps talks more about "truth" that if director decided to portrait only "truth" (which obviously was impossible as he/film would be banned). I could go on, but these three aspects are the basic ones to give you an idea of what you will seen in film.

Films tells an epic story that spans to several cities and over a decade but basic plot rotates around Yu Hong (Hao Lei) a young woman from Tumen, who is accepted to a fictional university in Beijing. There she meets Li Ti (Hu Lingling) and become close friends. Li Ti introduces Zhou Wei (Guo Xiadong) to Yu Hong and her life is changed forever as Zhou Wei becomes her obsessive love and obsession is mutual. But they have a volatile love affair, probably as volatile as the political forces that are moving towards Tiananmen Square. This story happens in what I call the first movie as storytelling style is very different to what follows in the second movie.

Second movie starts after the Tiananmen Square with the three main characters parting ways as Yu Hong returns to Tumen while Li Ti and Zhou Wei emigrate to Germany. Won't tell you more details of what happens but in the end complete story for me is about how unprepared where the Chinese to live in the "new" Chinese society, more specific, how unprepared were to live in (so-called) "freedom". Very interesting story told, again, mixing fiction and fact.

I was absolutely mesmerized by first movie as I think I was in shock of watching the "perfect" mélange of European/Chinese visual and narrative styles and yes I had my "what is this" moment as how could I imagine what I was seeing with no previous reference? Soon enough I got involved, forgot about thinking and started to only enjoy the fantastic ride. Second movie came a bit as a downer as wonderful style becomes more arid, dry, has more light but there are lots of foggy/hazy/greyish scenes. Obviously the second movie style was used to complement the story narrative that also is a lot more arid, dry, grey than first part. Fantastic.

For occidental standards is a long movie as has 140 minutes, I'm used to see "long" movies but not often I can spend that amount of time in awe with my mouth open unable to stop watching for a second, unable to move. That's how much I was affected by this movie that I enjoyed beyond my wildest expectations, but then I had no expectations at all, so perhaps that's why I got the intense reaction.

I strongly recommend this movie (if you haven't seen it yet) as definitively is a must be seen for those that enjoy European, mainly French, cinema as well as excellent Chinese cinema. Not surprisingly share that I have to see "everything" by Lou Ye to understand more how he evolved his amazing storytelling style up to this 2006 film and how he continue evolving with his subsequent movies.

Big Enjoy!!!

Watch trailer @MOC

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