This review was originally written on March 16, 2007.
After watching Made in Korea, interviewing its director, and having spicy Indian food, we went to see that last film of the night, Summer Palace. This film was supposed to have been shown at Cannes Film Festival, but it was pulled by the Chinese Government.
What attracted me to see this is the fact that it was a Chinese film dealing with students in the short period of liberation before Tiananmen Square massacre. I think I was expecting more of a political film, but it was more a story of the students sexual exploration as a metaphor for freedom in a totalitarian China.
Yu Hong is the central character is a young woman who is just starting to explore her sexuality with a young messenger in the neighborhood. She is accepted in the "Harvard of China", Beijing University in 1987. You can sense the sadness that they know things will change between them when she goes off to school.
Yu Hong lives in a crowded dorm with clothes hanging everywhere, where you go to the bathroom in a pot in the room, and there is a buzz around campus. There are young people from various communist countries all sharing ideas, stealing books, dancing, having sex, and protesting. Obscured in the film are the ideas and the politics behind the protests at the climax of the film. It is the sexual liaisons that prove emotionally dangerous in the blurred backdrop of the actually dangerous carnival-like protests. She is part of a rather incestuous group of friends and fellow students.
Yu Hong meets Zhou Wei while dancing with her friends. They are clearly drawn to each other. He fools around with other women and he gets jealous when he sees her with other men. They plead with each other to break up, but they cannot let go of each other. There is a lot of unnecessary drama with these too, which is actually consistent with young people out on their own for the first time. Friends fall into each others arms in the spirit of freedom and hormones, but they hurt each other. There is euphoria with the danger.
This film is beautifully filmed and the acting is top notch.
It isn't lost on me that I am reposting my love for Asian cinema during a time where Asian-Americans are being targeted. I am a lover of film and film festivals, and the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival has been consistently astonishingly good. Every movie that I have seen at their festivals remain with me for years. In the case of this film, it has been 14 years. It'is prickly relationship with the Chinese government makes it hard to watch on streaming services, but you may be able to find it on Youtube. It is worth seeking out.
I love all the stories that are coming out of the huge and diverse Asian world. Their stories speak to me and they are part of our beautiful planet and our country. They deserve safety, respect, rights, and admiration for their contributions in a variety of fields. The more you watch international film the truth of this becomes even more apparent. Many of the films I will feature on this site come from Asian countries, whether they be India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. - Ed.