Rating: 2 stars out of 5
The Stars: Zhao Dongyu, Shawn Dou, Xi Meijuan, Li Xuejian
The Story: Set during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 60s and 70s, the film tells the tale of Jingqiu (Zhao Dongyu), a student sent to the countryside to be “re-educated” as part of Chairman Mao’s campaign. At the village elder’s residence, she meets and falls in love with Jianxin a.k.a Lao San (Shawn Dou), a young man whose father was taken as a political prisoner. Disregarding their circumstances and familial objections, the pair continue their relationship in secret after Jingqiu moves back to the city. But it’s not long before a personal tragedy threatens to tear the couple apart forever.
The Buzz: Brought to life by award-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Curse of the Golden Flower, House of Flying Daggers), Under The Hawthorn Tree was adapted from Ai Mi’s popular internet novel “Hawthorn Tree Forever”, and reportedly inspired by a true story.
inSing.com thinks: Zhang’s claim to fame so far has been sweeping epic features that every so often, are accused of being too over the top. With Under The Hawthorn Tree however, he touches base with more simplistic overtures reminiscent of 1999’s critically acclaimed The Road Home. Moreover, Dou and Zhao put forward striking emotional performances as the star-crossed lovers – if there’s one thing Zhang always does right, it’s picking his leads (Zhang Ziyi’s turn in The Road Home propelled her to international stardom). The clandestine nature of their relationship is generously and realistically wrought out; beginning with coy side-long glances and gradually progressing to hints of physical intimacy. The film’s thoughtful attention to details of its cultural and political setting also lends a disquieting yet dazzling wave of authenticity. Sadly, despite a range of truly heartfelt acting and refreshingly understated story-telling, the plot seems to move slower than a tectonic plate shift. Some melodramatic elements toward the end may also come across as another case of wash, rinse and repeat as well.
Coupled with frequent splashes of engaging imagery courtesy of cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding, you’re eventually left with the reassurance of Zhang’s ability to render an organic, well-crafted film, but not quite enough to make Under The Hawthorn Tree really stand out amongst the riff raff.