Spring Fever (2009)

Director:  Lou Ye
Cast:  Qin Hao, Chen Sicheng, Tan Zhuo
Plot:  Hired to spy on a philandering husband, Luo Haitao soon becomes entangled in a clandestine affair with the other man.  Along with Luo's girlfriend, they succumb to the delirium of drunken nights, but how long can their tryst last?

Genre:  Drama

Awards:  Won Best Screenplay, nominated for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  116min
Rating:  R21 for homosexual content.

Banned in China because of its strong homosexual theme, Spring Fever had the distinction of winning Best Screenplay at Cannes.  Director Lou Ye, who is well-known in arthouse film circles as a controversial filmmaker who makes erotic dramas, does a less than decent job with his newest picture.  There are moments when Spring Fever promises to be a unique presentation of the traditional love story, in this case, of two men.  However, its execution is less engaging than it should be.

Lou Ye’s film grinds along like a slow steamship.  It is not a stuttering experience, but rather it is an uninteresting one.  The story unfolds with two gay men who are sexually attracted to each other.  The spouse of one of them hires a spy to check out on her husband’s activities, leading to a host of extramarital problems and new opportunities for relationships.  In essence, Spring Fever is a film about the individual’s quest for romantic fulfillment in a conservative society that sees extramarital affairs as taboo, let alone one with a partner of the same gender.

The film’s glacial pace occasionally allows the moving camera to hover around the main characters, capturing their close-ups as they stare into space, reflecting on the trajectory of their lives.  The performances are honest, but they do not excite.  The homosexual scenes are often shot in low light, and in a dreary setting.  As a result, these scenes do not titillate but rather are portrayed as a matter of normalcy in the daily lives of these characters, which is what Lou Ye intends to show in his film.

Spring Fever’s final act ends on a note that could be described as an empty feeling of muted satisfaction.  As far as the film is concerned, the narrative arcs of the characters’ lives seem to have been given enough treatment to come to a close, but the film remains inconclusive. This frustrates as much as it leaves room to ponder about the frailties of life. 

Lou Ye neither advocates homosexuality nor questions the behavioral motivation of his characters.  Instead, he lets his film ride on his naturalistic direction as it meanders about, frequently without any real purpose, in a bid to deliver a picture that is as much an ode to the spirit of the freedom of (sexual) expression as it is about finding meaning in one’s existence when society, by no fault of its people, unfairly denies that freedom.


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