Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, which began in 1978 following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, resulted in rapid economic growth that catapulted the Chinese nation through a period of intense modernization and development. In this series, we use Chinese youth as a lens through which to understand the corresponding changes in Chinese society, examining films that feature young people as main characters. By turns dramatic and comic, these films take a close look at people’s life experiences during these turbulent years and at how they defined themselves amidst great change.
Suzhou River (苏州河), 2000
Director: Lou Ye
Runtime: 83 minutes
Language: Mandarin with English Subtitles
The Suzhou river that flows through Shanghai is a reservoir of filth, chaos and poverty, but also a meeting place for memories and secrets. In this film director Lou Ye, who spent his youth on the banks of the Suzhou, shows the river as a Chinese Styx, in which forgotten stories and mysteries come together. It stars Zhou Xun (one of China’s “four dan actresses”) in a dual roles as a dive bar performer and daughter of a rich businessman and Jia Hongsheng as a man obsessed with finding a woman from his past. With shades of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in its storytelling, this film brought Lou Ye to international prominence, winning the Tiger Award at the 1999 International Film Festival Rotterdam. Though stylistically distinct, the film is typical of “Sixth Generation” Chinese filmmakers in focus on contemporary China’s gritty urban experience.