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Thread: EVER SINCE WE LOVED 万物生长 (Li Yu 2015)

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    EVER SINCE WE LOVED 万物生长 (Li Yu 2015)

    LI YU: EVER SINCE WE LOVED 万物生长 (2015)

    A Beijing med student and his love affairs

    Ever Since We Love (or Loved, which seems more grammatical) is coming out online in a nice print with good subtitles (you could find it before, but with blurry images and illegible English subtitles jammed next to Chinese ones). It's important mainland Chinese Woman director Li Yu's sixth film. (She's since made two more, both this year, 2021.) This one is adapted from the second in a coming-of-age trilogy set in the nineties from 2005 by Feng Tang, a writer notorious in China for his semi-pornographic style. The original title of the book and film translates in English as "All Things Grow." There is in that a kind of homage to biology, as perhaps befits a young medical student who specializes in gynecology. This seems an odd choice to adapt for Li Yu. But both the popularity and the sensationalism of the books probably appealed to her, and she may put more emphasis on the women in the protagonist's life than Feng Tang did.

    Li Yu is a wildly disordered filmmaker, but her films are full of life, and there can be vibrant moments when you may least expect them. Sometimes it's just fun to watch the scenery flow by, the Beijing street scenes of beggars and peddlers and random kids in Lost in Beijing, the garish foot massage emporium; in Buddha Mountain, it's the rampages the trio of buddies go on, their sun-drenched ride in an open freight car.

    This time she has descended into jokey pop-style coming-of-age fiction in an apparent effort to be more mainstream, or perhaps only to capture the outrageousness and variety of her literary source. There is some fresh, original material here you wouldn't be likely to find in more conventional examples of the movie coming-of-age genre, even if it gets rather lost in the shuffle. I was scornful of the fake, attention-getting slo-mo explosion of the giant classroom glass case full of embalmed skulls used to start things off with a bang at the outset. But I loved the medical students' cramped personal quarters. And some of the later scenes, though over-romanticized, are undeniably pretty. The medical school scenes may provide material of historical interest, though one doesn't know how accurate they are.

    The raucous medical students' hijinks are random and not particularly funny. This is supposed to be an "elite" medical school; but for much of the run-time seems to have only one teacher. When he points out they are sophisticated now so male and female students are in the same class and can discuss gynecological exams, one remembers the little carved ivory "doctor's lady," a Chinatown souvenir once used for Chinese female patients to point out to a male doctor where the trouble was. More of a sense of how rapidly things have been moving in Chinese social custom and medicine would have been interesting.

    The main character is a man, Qiu Shui (Han Geng) (the original of author Feng Tang), whose POV and voiceover ground the action, but there are several women in his life who seem to have more spunk than he does and likely matter more to the female writer-director. A female fellow student, Bai Lu (Qi Xi), is his present girlfriend. His first love, Xiaoman (Li Meng), is about to marry an official, but she has second thoughts, and tragedy awaits her. In a rather unconvincing scene in a hotel lobby, Qiu Shui by chance meets a successful older woman, Liu Qing (Fan Bingbing). She seems the desirable one now. It's a lot for the young man to deal with, and he sometimes gets exasperated in what seems more a comedy of errors than a sentimental education.

    This is Li Yu''s fourth film in a row featuring her apparent muse Fan Bingbing. Qiu Shui's friendship with Liu Qing, who co-runs and owns a medical supply company with an older man, Mao Da (Lv Xing) - who incidentally once attended Qiu's medical school - leads his current gf Bai Lu into some outrageous behavior inspired by jealousy. Li Yu never hesitates to present grotesque, comic, or vulgar behavior, and the way she stages Bai's insulting rudeness toward Liu when she gets jealous descends into gross-out slapstick. But for all I know this is faithful to the book, which I haven't read.

    Sometimes, as in Lost in Beijing, rural lack of polish and/or the crudity of the nouveau riche are defining. Here at times it feels like the whole society, undergoing warp speed changes, is losing all sense of decorum or rigor. But this is one of the things that infuses Li Yu's films with their raw energy. As in the two other Li Yu films I've seen so far, Lost in Beijing and Buddha Mountain, only that raw energy clearly holds all the parts together. Here in this genre mash-up it can't.

    As the narrating young would-be doctor Qiu Shui, the actor Han Geng is ordinary-looking like Tong Dawei, who played the window cleaner from the provinces An-Kun in Lost in Beijing, but without any of his sexiness. Han Geng provides steady calm, a sense of normalcy and of fitting in. Fan Bingbing unfortunately isn't up to the task of portraying the magical, unattainable woman who's also highly accomplished and a shy teaser - admittedly a tall order. She neither seems mature and confident enough to be a successful entrepreneur, nor projects the sense of a consistent person from scene to scene - from hotel meeting to bungee-jumping jaunt to friendly, then intimate,tête-à-tête.

    Consistency, of course, isn't really Li Yu's long suit. A more conventional and correct filmmaker would tell this kind of story more simply and clearly, yet Li Yu gives us moments we don't get anywhere else, even here. However, this is a mishmash, not up to Lost in Beijing or Buddha Mountain. Li Yu doesn't seem a sophisticated, first-rate sixth generation Chinese director on the level of Jia Zhang-ke or (among younger ones) Bi Gan. Here particularly she seems ready to mix genres wildly like the kind of popular Indian cinema that combines adventure, comedy, romance, and musical all in a single movie.

    Ever Since We Love[d] 万物生长, 106 mins., according to IMDb opened in China and the US in Apr. 2015, and showed at Busan that Oct. It will be released online in the US by Cheng Cheng Films in New York with (optional) English subtitles Sept. 17, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-17-2021 at 12:11 AM.


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