New York Times profile of Spring Fever director Lou Ye

by Isabella Tianzi Cai

Spring Fever (dir. Lou Ye)

In The New York Times, critic Dennis Lim profiled Chinese director Lou Ye and his film Spring Fever, which opens in New York this weekend. Spring Fever won the best screenplay at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. It centers on the story of a married man’s extramarital relationship with another man; the drama also involves his wife, a private detector, and the detector’s girlfriend.

The Chinese state banned Lou Ye from making films for a period of five years in 2006 for the production of Summer Palace, whose story alluded to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre in Beijing. In order to shoot Spring Fever, Lou moved underground and had to work constantly under the fear that his equipment might be confiscated and the production halted.
Lim’s article highlights Lou’s determination to make the sex-loaded Spring Fever “in defiance of that ban, with a subject guaranteed to vex the Chinese censors.” In Lou’s words:
Sex is an indispensable part of a natural human being. Starting from sex, each individual human being can learn how to frankly face himself and the freedom he has, and learn how to listen to and follow himself instead of others.
In other words, the freedom one enjoys in one’s sex life can be translated to the freedom one enjoys in one’s private life, which then, as Lou also argues, can be translated to the freedom one enjoys in one’s public or political life.
Ninety years ago politicians told us we had to believe in Marxism and Leninism. Fifty years ago they told us we had to follow Chairman Mao’s words and join the Cultural Revolution with passion. Thirty years ago they told us we had to reform and open up. Ten years ago they told us that making money was of great importance, while two years ago they told us everything was for the Olympics. We’ve always lived a life designated as without any consciousness. Maybe we could try to treat politics and history in the same way as we treat our daily sex life, with some frankness.
By producing movies with excessive sexual content, Lou is convinced that he is helping his nation with reversing this chain of events. If only he succeeds in cultivating some liberal minds using his films, albeit in the most crude sense, perhaps other changes will take place as well.
Lim recognizes Lou’s political ambition, but he recasts the latter’s political leanings: “His run-ins with censors have earned Mr. Lou a reputation of a politcal agitator,” Lim writes, “but it may be more accurate to think of him as a reckless romantic.” Lim provides a few reasons for this appraisal of Lou. First, Lou has had a strong western influence ever since he studied film-making. Fassbinder, Cassavettes, and Truffaut were all listed as Lou’s favorite directors. Secondly, Lou grew up in Shanghai, which was once China’s No. 1 cosmopolitan city. And lastly, Lou is a big fan of Yu Dafu, who has been recognized as “the Chinese D. H. Lawrence.”
The full article can be found at the New York Times.

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