07 January 2012

Zhang Yimou Did It Again!

 Chinese actor Shawn Dou who co-stars in Under the Hawthorn Tree

Cute boy meets pretty girl.  They fall in love.  Cute boy dies of a deadly disease.  Everyone is sad.  That's the plot of the Chinese film Under the Hawthorn Tree (2010).  Except in the hands of legendary film maestro Zhang Yimou, the prosaic, soap-operatic plot is turned into an artistic, evocative and beautiful love story.

Set in the politically turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, the story, adapted from an Internet novel by Ai Mi, is poetically unraveled layer by layer.  Zhang's uses of simple natural settings and symbolism tug at the viewer's heart.  The director's employment of the narrator's written remarks gives the film a patina of a biopic.  Perhaps it is since there are Internet rumors suggesting that the story is based on the reclusive author's personal experiences during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.  And to add to the sense of realism, San Ge's (Third Brother) ashes are buried under the hawthorn tree in the Yangzi River Valley, where, in 2006, the world's largest hydropower dam was built.  At the end of the film, we are told that the tree and every thing around it were submerged in water because of the Three Gorges Dam.  A not-so-opaque jab at Communist China's ambitious but controversial project.

Four Stars and a box of Kleenex tissues.

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