Life, Love, and Longing
Director Xiaogang Feng (Assembly) takes Geling Yan (The Flowers of War) original story and brings it to life in a fantastic story of a group of young people in China during a period of turmoil, treachery and war. With an orchestral score that lifts the spirits and dashes them with equal efficiency, an amazing piece of cinematography.
Youth is a retrospective film narrated by one of the protagonists Xiao Suizi (Zhong Chuxi, The Resistance) and takes us through decades of hard discipline of a military art troupe in the People’s Liberation Army.
China in the 1970’s Mao Zedong leads with an iron rod and encourages families to weed out those that do not conform to his ideals. Our story starts with our two hero’s arriving where they are to be stationed. Lui Feng (Xuan Huang, The Great Wall) is a well established performer with the troupe and everybody looks up to him. She is He Xiaoping (Miao Miao, Les demoiselles de Nankin) from a long way off having spent two days and nights travelling to get here. Xiaoping has had a troubled childhood, being bullied and ridiculed by her family and the final straw was her father being sent for re-education of her biological father when she was just six years old. She has now taken her step-fathers name and Feng has made up a back story to help her.
Xiaoping has had a special place made for her in the troupe due to her talent spotted the previous year by the dance instructor (Yan Su, Lust, Caution). Xiaoping shows of her tumbles and spins but due to the fatigue of the journey she falls. Later she is given her military equipment minus a uniform as the new ones haven’t turned up yet. She has a two week wait, but she so desperately wants to send a picture of herself in uniform, back to her parents, she ‘borrows’ soloist Lin Dingding’s (Caiyu Yang, Legendary) uniform to get the photo done but the result is seen by Lin when they are travelling through the city. This does not put her in the good books with Lin or the troupe and the bullying continues as people moan about her hygiene regime.
“Who pays to shower?”
Xiaoping’s feet were made for dancing, so when they go on manoeuvres she suffers from bad blistering which hero Liu Feng helps her with but it is Dingding that is still out for Xiaoping.
Revolutionary forces cannot abide defects.
The film jumps to 1976 with the death of Mao Zedong and the turmoil that ensued and compounded by natural disasters. Liu Feng suffers back injury fighting floods and can no longer dance so he turns to the backstage area, with a grounding in carpentry, so he is content.
As time progress there are changes within the country and within the troupe, as we see Western influences creeping in and universities are opening up again and people start looking toward the academic side of life. Emotions feel they need rise to the surface, but some are not ready for it and the consequences can be severe.
The film changes from the troupe doing propaganda performances to actual war and the drama in these scenes is palpable as we are right in the thick of the action as we smell the smoke and wipe away the grime of war. This changes all involved.
Watch how people from all over a vast country change due to a World changing more than they do. And never for the better as our hero’s struggle with life after the troupe and a disciplined life and the scars that they carry on the surface or within the soul. Awesome film.