Summer Palace (film)
Promotional Poster for Summer Palace
|Directed by||Lou Ye|
|Produced by||Sylvain Bursztejn
|Written by||Lou Ye
|Music by||Peyman Yazdanian|
|Edited by||Lou Ye
Summer Palace (simplified Chinese: 颐和园; traditional Chinese: 頤和園; pinyin: Yíhé Yuán), is a 2006 Chinese film and the fourth feature film by director Lou Ye. The film was a Chinese-French collaboration produced by Dream Factory, Laurel Films, Fantasy Pictures and Sylvain Bursztejn's Rosem Films. It was made in association with France's Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Ministère des Affaires Étrangères and Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC). The film is the first from mainland China to feature the full-frontal adult nudity of both its male and female leads, though earlier films such as Xiao Wu (1998), Lan Yu (2001), Green Hat (2003), and Star Appeal (2004), have featured full-frontal adult male nudity.
The film deals with a young student played by Hao Lei who leaves her small hometown to study at the fictional "Beiqing University" (a homage to Peking University). There she meets a fellow student and begins an intense romantic relationship in the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The film also follows the eventual disillusionment of these young idealists after the crackdown, as the years progress through the 1990s and into the 2000s (decade). The film is named after the Summer Palace located in Beijing.
Summer Palace's sex scenes and political undertones made the film tinder for controversy in China, leading both the director, Lou Ye, and his producers into conflict with China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT). After screening Summer Palace in the 2006 Cannes Film Festival without government approval, the film was placed under a de facto ban in Mainland China, and its filmmakers officially censored.
Spanning several cities and over a decade, Summer Palace tells the story of Yu Hong (played by Hao Lei), a young woman from the border-city of Tumen, who is accepted to the fictional Beiqing University, a name that evokes either Peking University ("Beida") or Tsinghua University ("Qinghua"). While in school, Yu Hong meets Li Ti, her best friend (played by Hu Lingling), and Zhou Wei, her college boyfriend and the love of her life (played by Guo Xiaodong). The film is divided into two parts. The first begins in the late 1980s (subtitles inform the audience of the place and year at various points in the film), as Yu Hong enters the university. Lonely and isolated despite the cramped living conditions, Yu Hong eventually befriends another student, Li Ti, who introduces her to her boyfriend Ruo Gu (played by Zhang Xianmin), and Ruo Gu's friend Zhou Wei. Yu Hong and Zhou Wei embark upon a passionate but volatile love affair just as political forces are moving towards Tiananmen Square.
Two events then bring the first half of the film to a close: First, Zhou Wei, incensed at the jealousy and emotional instability of his girlfriend, begins to have an affair with Li Ti; and second, the crackdown occurs on the students on Tiananmen Square and on the campus of Beida. During all of this, Yu Hong's old boyfriend Xiao Jun (played by Cui Jin) from Tumen arrives and the two of them leave, Yu Hong deciding that she will drop out from the university.
The film then fast forwards several years, as Lou Ye intersperses the travels of his three main characters with news footage of the end of the Cold War, and the 1997 Hong Kong handover. Yu Hong has left Tumen again, first for Shenzhen, and then for the central China city of Wuhan, while Li Ti and Ruo Gu have moved to Berlin. Yu Hong is unable to forget Zhou Wei, and has empty affairs with a married man and a kind but quiet mailroom worker. The film follows her disaffection with society and her use of sex as a substitute for contentment. Eventually discovering that she is pregnant, Yu Hong gets an abortion and moves to Chongqing where she marries.
Li Ti, Ruo Gu, and Zhou Wei, meanwhile, live a quiet life as expatriates in Berlin. While Li Ti and Zhou Wei still occasionally make love, the former quietly realizes that the latter does not love her. Though the three friends appear happy, when Zhou Wei plans to return home to China and settle in the city of Chongqing, Li Ti suddenly commits suicide. There he connects with former classmates who in turn point him to Yu Hong's email address.
After more than ten years, Zhou Wei and Yu Hong at last reunite in the resort city of Beidaihe. While they embrace, they ask each other, "Now what?" When Yu Hong leaves, ostensibly to buy drinks, Zhou Wei understands that they can never be together and leaves as well.
- Hao Lei as Yu Hong - the film's heroine, a young student at the fictional Beiqing University from the small town of Tumen, Jilin on the North Korean-Chinese border. Yu Hong is a willful young woman who desires to live life more intensely. Her love affair with the character of Zhou Wei serves as the basis of the film.
- Guo Xiaodong as Zhou Wei - Yu Hong's love interest, another student at the same university. Something of an intellectual, Zhou Wei is both deeply in love with Yu Hong and prone to infidelity. When the Tiananmen protests arrive, he like his fellow students join in the movement.
- Hu Lingling as Li Ti - Yu Hong's best friend and eventual rival. Li Ti, an English-language major at the same university, is the first to befriend the sullen, quiet Yu Hong. Though considered a cynic, she harbors a romantic side as well.
- Zhang Xianmin as Ruo Gu - Li Ti's boyfriend, a student studying abroad in Berlin.
- Cui Lin as Xiao Jun - Yu Hong's high school boyfriend from Tumen.
- Bai Xueyun as Wang Bo - Yu Hong's lover in Wuhan.
Summer Palace premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2006, and was released theatrically in France a year later on April 18, 2007 by Océan Films, under the title Une Jeunesse Chinoise (in English, "A Chinese Youth"). The film received its American debut in the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 10, 2006, and a limited theatrical release beginning on January 18, 2008 through distributor Palm Pictures.
Summer Palace was released on Region 2 DVD in France on January 28, 2008. The single disc edition includes the film in its original Mandarin with French subtitles, along with special features such as a making-of documentary, a featurette on censorship, Lou Ye's film notes, and cast and crew biographies.
Summer Palace was screened at several international film festivals, most notably Cannes, where it was the only Asian film in competition. However, the Palme d'Or eventually went to the Irish film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, directed by Ken Loach. Besides Cannes, Summer Palace was also screened at a handful of top-tier festivals including Toronto and Mill Valley.
Critics were generally positive in reviews, citing the film's ambition and scope with the most common complaint being the film's excessive length at 140 minutes. Derek Elley of Variety claimed the film was "half an hour too long." The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, also mentioned the "thirty minutes too long" complaint but stated that the film was nevertheless a "a raw and unsettling new work." The Guardian also found the film "over-long and meandering," but also "stylish [and] atmospheric."
The New York Times gave a particularly glowing review for the film with film critic A. O. Scott writing that "...[despite] its 2-hour-20-minute length, 'Summer Palace' moves with the swiftness and syncopation of a pop song. Like Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s, Mr. Lou favors breathless tracking shots and snappy jump cuts, and like Mr. Godard’s, his camera is magnetized by female beauty."
The film was released unrated in the United States. Several American film critics have described Summer Palace as one of the most sexually-explicit films in years; indeed David Denby of The New Yorker noted that he never seen so much lovemaking in an "aboveground" film, however, he also noted that these scenes are not pornographic, that is, never separated from emotion. Joshua Rothkopf and V.A. Musetta speculate that the male and female full-frontal nudity caused the ban in China.
Ban and controversy
The film was in competition at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival but failed to garner any awards. Though Summer Palace was the only Asian film in competition for the Palme d'Or, Lou and his producers had not received approval from Chinese censors, thus instigating an official censure by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT). Ultimately, both Lou and his producer, Nai An, were forbidden by the Chinese Government to make any new films for five years.
Besides the filmmakers, Summer Palace itself was de facto banned when SARFT refused to grant a certificate to distribute in the Mainland, though Lou claimed the ban was due to "technical reasons" in that the film was not up to the official standards for picture and sound quality.
- Lost in Beijing, director Li Yu's 2007 film, also produced by Fang Li's Laurel Films, which like Summer Palace, was banned by Chinese authorities.
- Banned films, China
- Censorship in the People's Republic of China
- List of Chinese films of 2006
- Nudity in film (East Asian cinema since 1929)
- Review: ‘Summer Palace’. Publisher: Variety. Published: 18 May 2006. Retrieved: 18 April 2014.
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- Testing China's Censors With a Gay Love Story. Author: Steve Friess. Publisher: The New York Times. Published: 12 January 2002. Retrieved: 18 April 2014.
- High Falls Film Festival - Celebrating Women in Film - Movies at the 2004 High Falls Film Festival - THE GREEN HAT – Feature, China, 2003 Publisher: HighFallsFilmFestival.Com. Published: 2004. Retrieved: 18 April 2014.
- Queering Chinese Comrades - Through the Lens of Director Cui Zi. Audrey Tse. www.academia.edu. Retrieved: 18 April 2014.
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- "Toronto International Film Festival - Film Description". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved 2008-01-20.
- Elley, Derek (2006-05-18). "Summer Palace". Variety. Retrieved 2007-08-13.
- Sandhu , Sukhdev (2006-05-19). "Cannes 2006: love in Paris and hatred in Ireland". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-08-13.
- Solomons, Jason (2006-05-21). "Give Pedro the prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-08-13.
- "Summer Palace (2008):Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-01-20.
- Denby, David (2008-01-21). "Moral Landscapes: "Still Life," "Summer Palace," and "Cassandra’s Dream"". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2008-01-20.
- Rothkopf, Joshua (Issue 642: January 17–23). "Summer Palace movie review - Film - Time Out New York". Time Out New York. Retrieved 2008-01-20. Check date values in:
- Musetta, V. A. (2008-01-18). "Epic Full of Love and Naked Truth". New York Post. Retrieved 2008-01-20.
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- Official site from distributor Palm Pictures
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- Summer Palace at Box Office Mojo
- Summer Palace at MonkeyPeaches