“Summer Palace,” the latest film from Chinese director Ye Hou, was submitted to Cannes this year, and then yanked by the Chinese government’s Film Review Board, due in part to scenes involving the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Hou has been banned by his government from making films for five years. this has created quite a buzz around the movie, and I went in expecting to see something sharp, satirical or insightful about the Chinese government and its abuses of power, how people react and resist in that country, etc. I was sorely disappointed.
Turns out it’s more of a movie about dorm room sex. (Ah, college – probably the only time in one’s life where most of the copulation takes place on a bunk bed.) The sex scenes are plentiful, long, and, to be honest, repetitive and a touch boring. Maybe they shouldn’t be censored by the government – I believe in freedom of expression as much as anyone – but they could stand to be edited a little.
Lou’s protagonist (Lei Hao) leaves behind her small provincial town to go to college in the big city. She intends to “experience life to the fullest” which she understands to mean having lots and lots of sex. I knew people like this in college; it never seemed to me like they were living more interesting or richer lives than anyone else around them. In fact, like Hao, they usually ended up in obsessive, destructive relationship patterns, and sex became a substitute for happiness.
There is a scene involving the Tiananmen Square debacle, but it’s muddy and confusing, and it’s hard to see what the Chinese censors would find objectionable about it– maybe they just don’t want any kind of negative anything about their country portrayed on screen. Or maybe they just got sick of all the full frontal nudity and sweaty scenes in “Summer Palace.” I know I did.