13 May 2013 | schwabbeldiwauwau
a typical festival movie
I have to say that I am genuinely skeptical about people who hail this movie as a "masterpiece", because I simply cannot believe that anyone could overlook the many flaws of the movie - especially concerning the aspects of story-telling and entertainment. I can already see how some people who read this cry out: "This is not supposed to be about entertainment, it's about emotions, a mirror of the time and place, it's thought-provoking, beautifully shot, if you don't like it, you should go back to watching the Fast and the Furious", etc.! Well, fact is: a good movie SHOULD be entertaining! If it fails on this level, then it fails as a whole, no matter how beautifully shot, etc. it is. It is right, of course, to say that too many movies are made solely for entertainment purposes. Many movies try to feed us basic ingredients, but fail to spice them up - and those movies fail, too. Summer Palace, on the other hand, delivers lots of spices in terms of artistic craftsmanship - but no substance. I don't think the story it tells is worth telling for the most part.
The movie does depict an interesting time and place; and it is nicely shot. And it probably took some courage to make because it features the demonstrations at Tian An Men Square in June 1989, which is still kind of a taboo today in China (don't get your hopes up, though: you just see a crowd demonstrating and throwing bricks at a burning truck for a few minutes; the political background is never mentioned or even hinted at, nor does anything else happen, besides the main characters being scared and confused and running around inside the student dormitory looking for each other).
The characters, however, experience a remarkably small amount of hardship (or happiness, or even anything), considering the times they live in. Yet they all seem to break in their own ways under the things they endure. I think a big problem i have with this movie is the fact that it takes itself so very seriously and the characters feel sorry for themselves all the time because of how tough they have it. And since they don't attempt to do anything about their oh-so-tough problems, it is pretty hard to feel sympathetic for them.
We get to see good acting for characters that are barely worth the actors' while. They have to deliver pseudo-meaning-bearing lines like "i want to break up with you because i cannot break apart from you" followed by two people staring at each other or thinking for a veeery looong time without saying a word. Another recurring thing (at least once every fifteen minutes) is people having sex and bursting out in tears after wards because they are emotionally overwhelmed or unfulfilled. The sex scenes get really old really quick, by the way. And so does the crying.
Summer Palace seems to me like a movie made for an audience that generally enjoys independent movies with high artistic value and low commercial motivation. It is made for an audience that likes to find subtle messages where there maybe really aren't any. And it is made for an audience that doesn't mind watching an unimpressive story unfold over two-and-a-half hours.
It's the kind of movie you're bound to see at some point when you attend a film-festival.