Summer Palace (2006)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2008-06-21
Summary: Good, emotionally charged film...
Summer Palace, the mainland film banned after its unofficial screening at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, is an emotionally-charged story of first love. Having been accepted to study at University in Beijing, Yu Hong (Hao Lei) leaves her far northern town and boyfriend (Cui Lin) in the fall of 1988. Although somewhat of an outcast at school (girls think she is a lesbian), she befriends a girl named Li Ti who eventually introduces her to her boyfriend Ruo Gu and his friend Zhou Wei (Guo Xiao-Dong). Yu and Zhao are instantly attracted to each other, and thus begins a tumultuous and passionate relationship that neither of them can truly understand.
In the meantime, evidence of political unrest is in the background, which culminates in the Tiananmen Square massacre. After the incident, many of the students leave Beijing, including Yu and Zhao. Yu goes back to her hometown of Tumen while Zhao, Li Ti and Ruo get visas and move to Berlin. After many years Yu and Zhao, always in each others' hearts and minds, reconnect, but the time apart threatens what they once had.

Summer Palace, albeit a bit long, is an excellent film filled with powerful performances by its leads. Hao Lei and Guo Xiao-Dong really capture the frustration and passion that comes with a first love occurring at a confusing time in ones life. Young and still trying to figure out their place in the world, their affair brings out emotions that neither of them can get a handle on, and it boils over in many instances leading to breakups, reconciliations and public battles. Most every viewer can relate to this situation and seeing it represented so well is a little emotionally draining. After they go their separate ways, you are really pulling for the two to somehow get back together, but once it occurs you realize that time and distance has irrevocably damaged what they once had.

In regards to the controversy surrounding nudity in the film, there is a quite a bit. There are full frontal nude shots of both Hao Lei and Guo Xiao-Dong, as well as a few somewhat graphic sex scenes. Given the subject matter and what has passed across screens in other parts of the world, namely the US, these scenes should not garner any extra negative attention.

8/10
Reviewer Score: 8