« Random Harvest | Main | Golden Balls »

February 07, 2008

Summer Palace


Yihe Yuan
Lou Ye - 2006
Palm Pictures 35mm Film

I had written about two earlier films by Lou Ye about a year and a half ago, when reports were published of Lou's ban from filmmaking due to his use of footage from the Tiananmen Square student strike. Some of what I wrote then still applies to Summer Palace. Even more so than Godard's imagined students of the Sixties, Lou's characters are the true children of Marx and Coca-Cola. Even though Summer Palace takes place primarily in China, covering events from the late 1980s on, the film has the feel of a classic French New Wave story. There is a sense of exhilaration with the students away from home, creating their own society in the dorms, trying to make sense of this new freedom in their lives. The connection with the French New Wave is cemented with a brief clip, seen in the background, of Jean-Pierre Leaud running on the beach in The 400 Blows.

The Tiananmen Square strike in only one small part of the film, and is almost incidental to the Lou's characters. Lou spoke about the film an an interview at the time his ban from filmmaking was announced. Two of the students expelled from the university are the best friend and former lover of the main character, Lu Hong. It is not political activities that get the students in trouble, but being caught making love in a dorm room. The characters are not so much affected by the various political shifts in China and Germany as much as those changes are used to counterpoint the characters own changing relationships.

summer palace.jpg

Lou makes use of pop music as he had done previously. One of the scenes that is the most fun is of the students getting together for a dance, in which Yu Hong meets the student who would become her lover while the two are in Beijing. For some reason, one of the songs everyone dances to is Seven Little Girls, a novelty hit from 1959. Was this then almost thirty year old song popular in China in the late Eighties? Was there any other reason why Lou chose this song? If the lyrics offer any kind of clue, it may be that what goes on in the world is less important than the the physical and emotional connections that bring people together.

Posted by peter at February 7, 2008 12:42 AM



Where did you see "Summer Palace"? I'm hoping it at least receives a DVD release sometime this year. I'm a huge fan of You Le and I always encourage people to check out "Purple Butterfly", a near-perfect and catyclismic thrashing about of politics, double-crosses, romance and an awesomely melodramatic finale.

Posted by: Joseph B. at February 7, 2008 09:15 PM

I saw Summer Palace at the Starz Cinema here in Denver. Some great movies, but smallish screens with uncomfortable seats.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at February 7, 2008 10:17 PM

Do you know if there is a OST available somewhere?

Posted by: Tomek Wawrzyczek at March 6, 2008 01:27 PM