Saturday, May 05, 2007

Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan)

To Hump!

Continuing my weekend of R21 movies, given that almost every screen in Singapore is showing Spider-Man 3 at the moment, and gives a clear indication on how the other blockbusters in the next 2 months will be treated as well. The Passion was a disappointment, and Summer Palace, somehow didn't live up to its hype, probably drawing curious audiences by the banning of its director Lou Ye from making films in the Mainland for the next 5 years, because he had failed to obtain official permission before screening Summer Palace overseas.

In any case, the same old marketing gimmick was to hype that this as the most erotic movie from China, and naturally drew audiences in like bees to honey. I've long classified broadly that movies of the romance genre can usually be grouped into the romantic comedies which Hollywood does well enough, and the romantic tragedies which try to bring out those tears. I've forgotten one more group, so add this to the broad classification now - those that want to titillate. Summer Palace attempts to explore relationships from its leads against the historical backdrop of change in China, but falls flat and seemed to prefer to focus on humping.

And even that it degenerates itself into soft porn territory, but at least soft porns are being honest about it. The story is neither a tragedy, or comedy, just plain boring drama infused with plenty of sex, which becomes meaningless, and mechanical after a while with repeated actions that drills down to lack of skills in bed. Both the action and the characters lack the emotional core that grabs the attention of the audience and engage some cerebral on why they are doing what they're doing.

Yu Hong (Lei Hao) is a village girl staying near the border of China and North Korea, and qualified for Beijing University in the late 80s. Leaving behind her shopkeeper father and a postal service boyfriend who deflowered her in the middle of a road late one night, she goes to the big city, but inside is quite unhappy about it. You know, she's one of those girls with huge emotional baggage problems that nobody, including herself, understands why.

Friendship comes in the form of fellow hostel mate Li Ti (Ling Hu), who introduces her to Zhou Wei (Guo Xiaodong) at one of those jam and hop sessions, and thereafter they become sex partners trying to heat up the screen. It becomes love found, love lost, making love, love lost, love found, you get the idea. We have confused characters who do not know what to do with each other, and to make things worse, they're promiscuous too, making everything quite frivolous in their quest to satisfy their lust for sex. Even the direction and story became schizophrenic, and with the lack of skill, breezes through events like the Tiananmen Incident, and the fall of Communism with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev's resignation, Yeltsin's ascension to power, and the likes, with just archived images, and subtitles indicating the event and the year. It's cheap, lazy filmmaking. Before you know it, it's down to the last hour where the characters have grown up, and apart in different countries.

There's a general feeling of lost, and if that's the filmmakers' intent, they have succeeded. Perhaps the best part is the reunion, where I thought is the only time when it's realistic with the feeling of helplessness and being tongue tied when meeting up with a loved one after donkey years - things are never the same again, and could never be the same anymore, and do you wish to hold onto the past, or move on to your own future?

Despite the pretentious plot and characters, the movie does feature an excellent eclectic soundtrack, and there thankfully helped keep everyone awake. Otherwise it's as hokey as the inscription on the tombstone - unless it's a mega tombstone, I don't see how those words could have been inscribed on it without running out of space.

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