Lou Ye, who has already demonstrated with Suzhou River (winner of a Tiger Award in 2000) that he is the romantic among Chinese directors, has made a very open, intense and melancholy love drama - certainly by Chinese standards. Summer Palace is set against the background of historic and social developments in his country between 1987 and 2001.
The beautiful and dreamy Yu Hong comes from a village on the Korean border. She is seventeen when she is admitted to the University of Beijing. At the end of the 1980s, when all over the world the yoke of oppression was thrown off, she was to meet the love of her life there, Zhou Wei. After the student revolt in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Zhou was sent to a ‘military summer camp’ and then left for Berlin. It was only years later that they met again by chance.
Partly thanks to the major role sexuality plays, Summer Palace looks strikingly intimate and western. The dynamic camerawork and the authentic decor (with a leading role for Lou Ye’s typical shadowy interiors) intensify the turbulent inner world of the young people, but this does not seem able to transform to productive energy. Lou does not touch on the limitations of today’s China as much as on young people’s universal struggle with themselves. (GT)