Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Review: Summer Palace
Summer Palace is a mostly nonsensical examination of a certain time and place that ends up examining neither that time nor place. The time and place are Beijing University in the late 80s, leading up to and following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
The film's director, Lou Yhe, was forbidden to make another film in China for five years after making this film. For the life of me, I don't know why. I certainly didn't notice any politics. In fact, I didn't notice much talking either - things just happened, and nobody ever explained their motivations or desire (this makes a film "arty"). For the first half of the film, a typical sequence is as follows: Yu Wong and Zhu Wei have lots of sex. Wong tells Wei she wants to break up, but they keep having sex anyway. A few fuckfests later, Wong tells Wei she's sleeping with someone else. This upsets Wei and leads to some shoving with another guy, but the fucking continues. Then Wei tells Wong he wants to break up, so Wong tries to kill herself. Go figure.
Eventually, the Tiananmen Square protests occur. Although they finally add both motion and emotion to an otherwise inert film, they're also presented apolitically. There are lots of banners that I couldn't read, but it's unclear why the students are protesting. Eventually, Zhu Wei has sex with Yu Wong's best friend during the protests. Damn, that stings.
After the Tiananment Square protests, 8 years pass via subtitles, and the second half of the movie proceeds, with Zhu Wei living in Germany and Yu Wong fucking everyone in China. I get what I wished for, but it turns out I didn't want it; in this portion of the film. Yu Wong tries to explain her actions. We get this profound examination, while Yu Wong is fucking a married man: "A friend who knows the law told me our affair is not illegal, but immoral. What is morality? Two people together; that is morality." Thanks Nietzsche. I'm glad you cleared that up for me.
From there, the movie slowly crawls to its lack of conclusion. A secondary character dies, which I think I'm supposed to care about. Oops.