Shanghai Film Review: ‘Young Style’
An up-to-the-minute look at the pressure-cooker environment of Beijing high schoolers prepping for college entry, “Young Style” is one of the most charming films of its kind. Mainland helmer Liu Jie eschews the arthouse trappings of his litigation-themed works “Courthouse on Horseback” (2006) and “Judge” (2009) in favor of relaxed spontaneity, treating teen crushes and schoolboy friendships without corniness or moralizing. The tightly written pic skips along breezily with hardly a dramatic lull, and should be welcomed by fests open to more mainstream work. The absence of a starry cast, however, may limit local B.O.
Chinese films have often depicted first love in conflict with academic goals; the most accomplished examples are all set during the transitional years after the Cultural Revolution and before full-scale economic reform, such as Wang Xiaoshui’s “Shanghai Dreams” (2005), Xie Dong’s “One Summer with You” (2006) and Zhang Yimou’s “Under the Hawthorn Tree” (2010). Even the current crop of early ’90s campus-set hits, like Vicky Zhao’s “So Young” and Peter Chan’s “American Dreams in China,” carry this strain of wistful nostalgia.
Though Liu cites Wang’s “Beijing Bicycle” (2001), which he lensed, as an influence, “Young Style” stands apart from its precursors for the utterly contempo manner in which its youthful protags relate to adults and to their peers. Liu, who reportedly engaged in 14 months of field work in high schools, vividly portrays an age group that, unlike past generations, is untouched by any historical or political upheaval, and therefore seems more naive in some ways, yet more sophisticated in others.
The dramatic opener sees 16-year-old Ju Ran (Dong Zijian) announcing “Today, I’m in love” as he plunges from the railing outside his window. Rewind to his high-school graduation photo session five days earlier: Standing before his graduting high-school class, 16-year-old Ju Ran (Dong Zijian) recites a speech, really a love manifesto, to Jingjing (An Jing), whom he’s secretly worshipped for three years. They run away hand-in-hand but are stopped in their tracks by Ju’s mom, Wenli (Yong Mei), who scathingly rebukes Jingjing for jeopardizing her son’s future. Surprisingly, the 18-year-old girl’s retort proves even more caustic, and becomes the catalyst for Ju’s reckless act five days later, which he fortunately survives.
Ju takes his college entrance exams in a state of lovestruck distraction, and becomes the only student in his class to fail. Jingjing, on the other hand, is accepted by the prestigious Fudan U. in Shanghai, and Ju vows to get admitted there next year to be near her. With wry humor, Liu recounts a magical experience for Ju, in which the humiliation of having to repeat his final year is gradually assuaged by new friendships, greater follies and even a cute admirer, Xiaofan (Qie Lutong).
Despite its characters’ varying romantic attitudes — Ju’s childish fixation, Jingjing’s self-possessed coquettishness and Xiaofan’s coy infatuation — the film’s foremost preoccupation is with the school system. Teachers give speeches in which they hilariously insist that getting into a top university is the be all and end all of life, while parents often bear the brunt of their children’s academic performance — “Even divorce can wait,” ordered the headmaster.