Yihe yuan (Summer Palace) (2006)
Director: Ye Lou.
Starring: Xueyun Bai (Wang Bo), Lin Cui (Xiao Jun), Long Duan (Tang Caoshi), Xiaodong Guo (Zhou Wei), Lei Hao (Yu Hong), Ling Hu (Li Ti), Chi Le (Woman), Meihuizi Zeng (Dongdong), Xianmin Zhang (Ruo Gu).
non-love stories of troubled young people in China set against the massacre at Tiananmen Square
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. Sexual topics and curse words.
In the small town of Tumen Xiao Jun comes to pick up the mail. He takes the mail over to his girlfriend Yu Hong and gives her the letter about enrollment at the University of Beijing. They smoke and drink a bit and then she opens the letter. She tells Xiao Jun that she got into the university. Filled with joy, she jumps on Xiao Jun and gives him a big hug.
Xiao Jun parks his bike on a basketball court and is reluctant to move it when the basketballers vociferously object. So he gets a good beat-down. He is upset. Alone with Yu Hong, he kisses her. They lay down in the grass and have sex.
Tumen, Chinese-North Korean border, 1987. Yu Hong gets on the train and goes to Bejing.
Bejing University 1988. Yu Hong makes friends with a fellow student, Li Ti. Li Ti asks Yu Hong if she has a boyfriend and she says no. Li Ti asks her if she would like to go out with her and her boyfriend Ruo Go? Yu Hong agrees. She is introduced to one of Ruo Gu's friends Zhou Wei, another student. Yu Hong doesn't dance at the dance place, so Ruo Gu tells Li Ti to get her friend to dance. Soon Yu Hong is dancing with Zhou Wei. Yu Hong and Zhou Wei talk all night long. (We learn that Yu Hong keeps a diary.)
The two young ladies go out again. They grab Zhou Wei from his dorm room. Li Ti sets up the couple so they can have sex in her dorm room, since her roommate is away with her boyfriend. The couple make out and then have sex. In her diary Yu Hong writes that Zhou Wei is the man of her dreams, but his presence frightens her.
The couple has sex again. They go out rowing. Yu Hong says she wants to break up with him, because she can't leave him. They go bike riding. They pass by a huge picture of Mao Tse-Tung on a wall.
Yu Hong enters Zhou Wei's room to find him eating with a co-ed. Upset she turns around and leaves. When Zhou Wei tries to talk to her at a pool hall she leaves the pool hall. When he sees her again he hugs her. They have sex.
When they finally start talking again, for some unknown reason (except probably because of her fear of a long-term relationship) she tells Zhou Wei that she had sex with her psychology mentor. Zhou Wei becomes angry and this time he leaves. Back in her dorm room Yu Hong pees in a large pan and then falls into it. She starts crying and a roommate tries to comfort her.
Zhou Wei goes to a meeting room during a meeting in order to see Yu Hong. He sees her with a guy, which makes him jealous. The fellow asks if she would like to have sex with him, and Yu Hong gets up and leaves the room. The two guys end up fighting and again Yu Hong leaves. (She always seems to be leaving places when she should stay and talk.) After the fight is broken up, Zhou Wei comes over to Yu Hong. She asks him: "What's wrong with you?" He replies: "Ask yourself what's wrong with you!" He leaves.
Yu Hong suddenly shows up at Zhou Wei's dorm room and tells Zhou Wei that she is going to sleep here tonight. He tells her no. She repeats her statement. He slaps her to get her to leave the room. She says she will leave, if he hits her for a second time. He slaps her. She says she will leave if he hits her again.
In her diary she writes: "What's worse is to know this sort of thing will happen to me again. . . . I curse my stupidity, my futility."
Zhou Wei tells her: "Let's break up."
Li Ti sees Yu Hong on the roof. She becomes frightened about her friend jumping off the roof and she rushes up to the roof. Yu Hong says that Zhou Wei is not talking to her. Li Ti says that she scared the poor guy. Guys like him, says Li Ti, like gentle girls. The two young ladies go out dancing. Li Ti says she talked to Ruo Gu about her and he said Yu Hong is crazy. Yu Hong wonders: "Maybe I'm doomed to be with him." She teaches fellow co-ed Dongdong how to masturbate. The two becomes close friends. They meet two guys from another university. Later they came to visit them and the guys stay over. The two have sex with the guys.
One day sitting in an empty swimming pool, Yu Hong loses consciousness.
There is a lot of political excitement. The students from the university are jumping on vehicles and going to Tiananmen Square. Yu Hong runs downstairs and jumps on the back of a truck. The students sing and jump up and down with excitement.
Li Ti and Zhou Wei sleep together and are caught by the college administration. A friend of Zhou Wei's goes to tell Yu Hong that Zhou Wei and Li Ti (Yu Hong's two best friends) are sleeping together and have been caught in the act. It will be made public soon and the fellow suggests that Yu Hong should not be seen with Zhou Wei again. Hu Yong approaches him and says: "Fuck off!"
Xiao Jun from Tumen shows up at the university. Yu Hong starts to cry and runs to her dorm room. He follows her. She screams: "I'm going home! He tells her to calm down and holds her. He lays in bed with her until she is calmer. Outside there is mass confusion with people running around wildly. Yu Hong goes to Tiananmen Square. Li Ti and Ruo Gu are there already. Gunfire is heard. People star running. Another shot is heard. In the Square Dongdong comes up to Zhou Wei and asks him if he has seen Yu Hong? She says that Xiao Jun came to take her back home to Tumen. They go looking for the two from Tumen. They see a truck burning and young people throwing stones at it. The military come firing their weapons and the crowd has to retreat and disperse. Dongdong is so frightened that she can't move, so Zhou Wei has to grab her and force her to run away.
Zhou Wei and Dongdong never found the couple. One of the roommates, out of frustration, starts crying and shouting "Fucking bastards!" Zhou Wei has to hold him forcibly until he quiets down. Yu Hong goes back to her dorm room. Dongdong goes over to see Zhou Wei and tells him that Yo Huang is gone. She is dropping out! And he is not to go looking for her. "Everything's over between you." Then Dongdong runs away.
Beijing, 1989. Yu Hong is on a train.
Autumn Students' Annual Military Training, 1989. Everyone is running around trying to get on one of the buses. Zhou Wei gets on one of them to go for his annual training.
1989, Ruo Gu leaves Beijing and goes back to Berlin.
1989, Yu Hong and Xiao Jun leave Beijing for Tumen.
1989, Li Ti and Zhou Wei stay in Beijing to wait for their German visas.
Berlin, 1989. The Berlin Wall comes down.
Beijing, 1990. Li Ti and Zhou Wei get their visas. Yu Hong calls to speak with Zhou Wei, but hangs up when he gets on the phone.
1991. Yu Hong leaves Tumen for Shenzhen.
1991. Moscow. Gorbachev and detente. Brezhnev.
1994. With the help of Rio Gu, Li Ti and Zhou Wei arrive in Berlin.
1995. Yu Hong and her good friend from Shenzhen, Wong Bo, arrive in Wuhan.
1997. Hong Kong. A contingent of 500 troops from the People's Liberation Army enter Hong Kong. The British governor leaves.
At work Yu Hong tells her colleague Wu Gang to come with her. He wrote her a letter professing his love for her. Yu Hong tells him that there is nothing good about her. In her diary she writes that the college days were the most confusing days of her life. Now she lives in an unbearable situation and her heart is heavy, but is calmed by the fact that she has a talent to comfort herself at will.
1997. Chang District, Wuhan. Yu Hong meets a fellow named Wang Bo while she sings Karaoke. One day she comes to him and tells him to read her diary. He says he won't do that. She hugs him hard and they kiss. He says he missed her. They have sex.
In her diary Yu Hong writes that she goes to Wang Bo out of boredom. He has a wife. But he is so like her: alone and without purpose. Then she asks the question: "What is morality?" She writes that her passion for him won't last. She writes: "Why else do we fight with those we love most?"
Zhou Wei rides the subway in Berlin. Yu Hong takes a bath. She had forgotten his name, she later writes. She wonders if he is like her, always thinking of someone else? She is so distracted that she gets hit by a truck. She is not seriously hurt, but suddenly Zhou Wei's named popped back into her head. She asks: "Zhou Wei, where are you?"
Yu Hong calls Wang Bo, but he doesn't answer. So she goes to see Wu Gang. She tells him to not tell anyone at work about the truck accident. She writes in the diary: "There is nothing serious inside me, only hatred and rancor." All of a sudden she wants to marry someone, quickly, and it doesn't matter to whom.
In Berlin Li Ti, Ruo Gu and Zhou Wei, along with some young Germans, have a little get-together. Zhou Wei is going to go back to China. He has a friend in Chongqing who has offered him work. A Polish woman asks him if he has a girlfriend. He says his girlfriend, perhaps, lives very far away.
Yu Hong has her photo takes with Wu Gang. At work she feels uneasy and sick. She runs from an office meeting. She may be pregnant.
Wu Gang tells her that people say that she was also carrying on with a married man. He says he doesn't care about that. Yu Hong says there have been many men in her life. She cries. Wu Gang says he doesn't care about the past. When he says she is a good person, Yu Hong gets upset and leaves. He comes after her and she says he's lying. She asks him if he loves her and he kisses her. She thinks about Zhou Wei and says she's gentle. In her head she asks Zhou Wei why does she rush into sex with men? She tells Wu Gang: "Let's get married."
Yu Hong has an abortion. She now says she lives in poverty because of her sexual desires and romantic nature.
In Berlin Li Ti and Zhou Wei have sex.
Koepenikerstrasse, Mitte, Berlin, 1998. Zhou Wei rides his bike to tell different friends good-bye.
Yu Hong is going to Chongqing.
In Berlin Zhou Wei walks with Li Ti and Ruo Gu in a quiet peace demonstration. The three and another guy go up on a roof. Li Ti sits on a short wall around the roof. When the three guys light up cigarettes, she merely leans back until she falls. The three men are stunned. The police question the three. Zhou Wei is alone. Yu Hong is alone. Both seem miserable.
Ruo Gu takes Zhou Wei to the airport. Zhou Wei asks him if he loved Li Ti? He answers that Li Ti said she was afraid to love anyone. She always thought she would leave them and was afraid to hurt them. So she never let anyone get too close.
Chongqing, China, 2000. Zhou Wei starts work. On a boat ride with his colleagues he runs into a woman from his college days. They reminisce about their student days and other students. The woman tells Zhou Wei that Dongdong is now a wife in Canton. And Yu Hong got married two years ago. Zhou Wei goes home with his girlfriend from work, but she leaves saying she thinks he would rather be alone tonight.
Lulong, Beijing-Bedathe Highway, 2001. At a train station Zhou Wei picks up Yu Hong. But on the drive to Bedathe, neither of them say anything. They walk on the beach. It gets dark and still nothing has been said. They go to a hotel room. He takes her coat off and asks what's the matter? She says nothing's the matter. So what now? he says. She says the same: So what now? He says he needs a drink and will go get themselves something. Yu Hong says no, she will get the drinks. She leaves the room.
The dawn arrives. Yu Hong has still not returned. Then we see Yu Hong returning with the drinks. But as she approaches the main highway, she sees Zhou Wei driving off in his car.
Yung Hong goes to Funing, the hometown of the young man she met in Chongqing. She and he work in the same service area on the main highway as of winter 2003. Zhou Wei never returned to Beijing. Ruo Gu left Berlin a year after the suicide death of Li Ti. He lost contact with everybody.
Good movie but upsetting. This is a non-love story. It's not love when one or both of the partners cannot have a loving relationship because of various psychological or psychiatric problems. And poor Yu Hong certainly was not psychologically stable. She could not have a loving relationship because she was always running away from relationships. And her boyfriend Zhou Wei is not much better. If he was psychologically stable, he would have realized that Yu Hong could not really love him and moved on with his life. Instead he gets hooked up with other women and especially Li Ti who also could not really love anyone because of her fears of intimacy. So you have three messed up people constantly missing one another and messing up each others' lives. None of them were really happy because they could not establish a true loving relationship. Instead of love, there was a lot of sex. (My wife and I were surprised that a Chinese movie would have so much sex, but it is does fit for the plotline.)
And, of course, when mental illness is involved the ending is probably not going to be a happy one. This was the third recent Chinese love story film I watched that ended up badly. I told my wife: "Can't anyone just fall in love and stay in love in these Chinese films?" Three in a row was a bit discouraging to me.
I liked the acting, but the film puts you through a roller coaster of emotions. I was hoping for a happy ending, but at last all hope was in vain. The film definitely showed that sex without love can be had way too easily amongst confused young people.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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