When Xiaoping joins the dance troupe of the People’s Liberation Army she’s not welcomed with open arms like she might have hoped. With her father in prison for having the wrong political views during China’s Cultural Revolution, she’s seen as tainted by association and is all but outcast by her fellow troupe members. The only person that seems to have her back is Liu Feng, a kind-hearted, morally impeccable dancer that can’t help but look out for his comrades. Through their ostracism they grow a seemingly unbreakable bond, one that’ll last for many decades to come.
Despite being made by blockbuster hitmaker Feng Xiaogang, the film faced a lot of challenges before its release both abroad and domestically. It’s unclear why this was, but, much to the delight of film fans around the world, come out it did. Narrated from the point of view of Hao Suwen, the leader of the troupe’s female clique, the film is a love letter to innocence, camaraderie and, above all, youth. Focused on the lives of the dance group members during some of the country’s most traumatic periods, Youth comes across as more of a high school romance than it does poignant war film.
Given its muddled focus, the film feels like an odd viewing experience because it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. This is particularly true of the film’s second half, where the film takes its characters out of their closeted lives in the dance troupe and thrusts them into the brutal reality of the war between Sino-Vietnamese war. While it creates some rather poignant scenarios for its two leads, as Liu Feng is forced to fight on the frontlines and Xiaoping becomes a nurse, it happens so late -and lasts for so little time- that we, as the audience, have very little time to truly take in the horrors that they have to face.
That being said, Feng Xiaogang directorial prowess is immediately evident in this film. He approaches the landmark events in China’s history with an artistic flair, using subtle imagery and changes in set pieces to punctuate the impact these moments really had. Luo Pan’s stunning camerawork brings the troupe’s grand performances to life on screen, while Zhao Lin’s emotive score lends a supportive hand. Youth marks an interesting new direction for Feng Xiaogang, and while it’s narrative focus can be confusing it still features a moving story that portrays an important turning point in Chinese history.
Directors: Feng Xiaogang
Release: Out now
From: Cine Asia
Format: Dual Format DVD and Blu-ray
Age Rating: 15