Country girl Yu Hong leaves her village, her family and her lover to study in Beijing. At university, she discovers an intense world of sexual freedom and forbidden pleasure. Enraptured, compulsive, she falls madly in love with fellow student Zhou Wei. Driven by obsessive passions they can neither understand nor control, their relationship becomes one of dangerous games – betrayals, recriminations, provocations – as all around them, their fellow students begin to demonstrate, demanding democracy and freedom. Protests collapse, and Yu and Zhou lose each other amidst the social chaos and panicked crowds. Zhou Wei is sent to a summer military camp, and on his release moves to Berlin, fleeing both his country and memories of Yu. She finds a job, a lover, but can not forget Zhou. In Germany, social unrest is mounting: calls for freedom, demonstrations for democracy. A familiar story for Zhou. Weary, still haunted by Yu, he returns to China as the Berlin Wall crashes down. He finds her at last, in a small town. From evening to dawn, their future stretches before them, two changed souls in a changed world. —IMDb
Lou Ye (simplified Chinese: 娄烨; traditional Chinese: 婁燁; pinyin: Lóu Yè; Wade-Giles: Lou Yeh), born 1965, is a Chinese writer-director who is commonly grouped with the “Sixth Generation” directors of Chinese cinema and is currently banned from filmmaking by the Chinese government for five years as a result of controversy surrounding his film, Summer Palace.
Born in Shanghai, Lou was educated at the Beijing Film Academy. In 1993, he made his first film Weekend Lover, but it was not released until two years later in 1995. Lou, however, did not gain international prominence until his second film, the neo-noir Suzhou River. That film dealt with questions of identity and proved quite controversial upon its release in China. Upon its release, international audiences praised Suzhou River, which several critics felt evoked Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, particularly in how both films focus on a man obsessed with a mysterious woman.
In 2003, Lou Ye made the film Purple Butterfly starring… read more
The closest thing to a Bertolucci/Godard collaboration there is in 21st century cinema, with all of the possible highs and lows in that hypothetical pairing bared for all to see. Lou's become quite adept at borrowing stylistically from other filmmakers (i.e. Hitchcock and Wong Kar-wai with "Suzhou River"), but he does it earnestly. Few can illuminate Anna Karina's face like Godard, but Lou comes close with Hao Lei.
I went into this having read criticisms of "playing to Western sensibilities," and perhaps this is true, but it was so well acted and beautifully filmed. While it wasn't quite as evocative as 苏州河 Suzhou River, it was a peek at a time+place we rarely get to look at it in fictional form (as opposed to documentary), and at students who were there but not leaders (wondering where they've went since).
Quite frankly, this is one of the best films I’ve ever seen! If you’re a fan of “Suzhou River” and director Ye Lou’s style, then you’ll absolutely love “Summer Palace”. And how awesome was Lei Hao in this film! Her performance was so fearless and genuine that to call what she did "acting" would be a massive understatement. One word to describe this film: MASTERPIECE!