9 June 2010 | Chris Knipp
Not a success, or up to his previous work
This film by the director of SUMMER PALACE, which depicted turbulent relationships at the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, is a murky five-way gay romance that's so depressed-feeling it's surprising there's only one suicide. According to Derek Elley's Variety review the director bypassed the five-year film-making interdiction his previous effort brought on by listing this as a HongKong-French co-production, though it was shot "in Nanjing, central China, on digital equipment," and transferred to 35 mm. -- not entirely successfully, judging by the extremely dark interiors, which lose the desired sense of metaphysical longings influenced by changing weather (and oncoming spring). The action isn't so easy to follow at a basic level, either. There's intense gay sex at the beginning (and scattered throughout). It develops that the one married partner in the affair is being followed at his wife's behest and photographed. She violently confronts her husband and humiliates the other man publicly at his place of work. Later, the man who tailed the lovers loses interest in his g.f. and becomes attracted to the unmarried gay man, whose talents include singing in drag.
There is a sequence when three of the principals overcome grief by doing some Karaoke singing and then go on a momentarily successful car odyssey together. Elley thinks this film better organized (despite its desultory later developments) than SUMMER PALACE, but still far inferior to SUZHOU RIVER or even the flawed but interesting PURPLE BUTTERFLY. To my mind, SUMMER PALACE was more interesting, its scenes more atmospheric. There was a sense of excitement around the impending revolt, a feel of palpable historical urgency. SPRING FEVER may attract some festival audiences and work best at gay series, but its literary quotations and moodiness only heighten its clumsy feel. If Lou Ye was trying to channel Wong Kar-wai (of HAPPY DAYS, say), he ought to have hired Chris Doyle and directed his actors better. Some French critics were impressed through all the mess (Allociné rating 2.3/46) and this was shown at Cannes. But it's still a mess. Seen in Paris at MK2 Beaubourg (to a packed house) in April 2010.