were like the Sharks and the Jets of the Cultural Revolution (but without
song). Two competing PLA work teams have been sent down to the Yunnan
countryside. They come from different backgrounds, but both are very interested
in Ye Xing-yu. When she falls for the rebellious leader of the rival team, it
inevitably leads to heartbreak in Lü Yue’s Foliage,
which is the subject of this week’s Chinese Film Short Course lecture at the
China Institute in New York.
never felt like she belonged in the Yunnan camp—and who could blame her for
that? However, it is not such a bad fit for her childhood pal and de facto boyfriend
Yuan Ding-guo, who generally prefers to lower his head and plug away. Ye
desperately hopes for a discharge to care for her widower father after his
stroke, but her status as an “intellectual” will make that difficult. At least
she will not be late returning from a visit home, thanks to the intercession of
Liu is quite taken with Ye. After years of Yuan’s quiet bashfulness, she is also
rather impressed with his forthright interest. Unfortunately, a pickpocketing
incident in Red Post Town (masterminded by Liu) will irreparably poison
relations between the two work groups. Ye will try to act as a peacemaker, but
her platoon will not have it. Instead, they intend to use her as bait for Yuan,
whether she cooperates or not.
Foliage gives viewers a
different perspective on the Cultural Revolution, but it is still not what you
would describe as positive. Ye’s platoon are frequently derided as the “intellectuals”
and “class enemies” due to their education and families’ professional
backgrounds. In contrast, Liu’s platoon are more rustic types. They might very
well have volunteered just to have a job, whereas Yuan’s colleagues frequently
profess to believe in their mission (which seems to entail senselessly
despoiling the land, from what we see). It is the same old class warfare, but
turned inside-out, standing on its head. Frankly, it makes you wonder which
team Bernie Sanders would throw his lot in with, if he were there (but he would
surely expect to be part of the Gang of Four).
the extent to which everyone loses their heads over Ye at a time so fraught
with irrational ideological violence somewhat stretches credibility, even if
she is played by Shu Qi, who it must be admitted, absolutely lights up the
screen. She effectively develops some radically different screen chemistry with
her two competing leading men. You can feel her comfort with Fan Bing’s Yuan,
like an old shoe, and the passion that percolates with Liu Ye’s Liu Si-mong.
However, Qi Huan steals scene after scene as Ye’s cute but sadly tragic best friend
Fortunately, the platoon factions are not
productive enough at raping the environment to deny Lü his lovely natural
backdrops. Best known as a cinematography, he has shot several Zhang Yimou
films, Joan Chen’s Cultural Revolution drama, Xiu Xiu: the Sent-Down Girl, and Feng Xiaogang’s explicitly
jingoistic Assembly and Back to 1942, so he has range and flexibility.
He helms the love triangle with great sensitivity, conveying all the angst and
yearning, without descending into melodrama. As a result, Foliage is a wonderfully sad and sweeping story of love sabotaged
by the macro forces of history, highly recommended, if you can find it. Indeed,
there should be no shortage of historical and political context to explore when
Foliage is the lecture topic this
Wednesday (5/25) at the China Institute.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Cultural Revolution, Shu Qi