Oy. The follies of youth. The film isn't horrible, but it tries to cram too much in what could be a poignant story of love lost and lost again. Not sure if the interlude of the Tienanmen Square protests adds much if anything to the film; I think it rather detracts from it, and invites unfavorable comparisons to "The Unbearable Lightness of Being." I also winced at the "where are they now" updates at the end.
Authentic, raw Chinese epos about a country girl coming to Beijing and losing herself in a swirl of strong desires, confusion and obsessive passion. Set against the background of the 1989 Tianan Men incident, this is one of the best Chinese movies i ever saw. Lei Hao is a brillant actress.
I actually turned this off about an hour in, bored by a lack of emotional investment in the characters and a constant stream of pointless sex. While there is some lovely cinematography in this film and the back drop of the protests adds an edge, there is just not enough substance to keep me invested. It really lost me as it fast forwarded in time using a titled montage that included characters we'd never met.
Summer Palace is an elegiac allegory for democracy in China. The romances of the film's first half ending with the 1989 protests and the adult romances of the second half are broken up by news footage of the Hong Kong handover and the end of the Cold War. Yu Hong and her romances can be read as symbols of the trajectory of Chinese democracy with the ending suggesting it's impossible. Maturity means accepting this.
The backgrounds in this movie really add a lot of symbolism for what’s going on in the foreground. For instance, the erratic string instrument playing from Yu Hong’s roommate shows her emotional breakdown, and the people rushing between her and her old lover when he came to visit show the distance that has formed between the two of them due to the people the Yu Hong has met. Overall a great movie for emotional types.
Or: The Unbearable Lightness of Beijing--an aka I'd be too embarrassed to posit if it weren't so unmistakably apt. Like Philip Kaufman's Kundera adaptation, SP is a sumptuous, voluptuous, tortuous tale of twin deliria: love and revolt. Exchange 1968 Prague for 1989 Beijing, refresh the doomed pair of ardent lovers accordingly, then let the superficial parallels ramify for 140 minutes purpled with swollen piano.
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!