×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Under the Hawthorn Tree

Youthful passion and faithful devotion are lovingly depicted in this tender, understated romancer.

With:
With: Zhou Dongyu, Shawn Dou, Xi Meijuan, Jiang Ruijia, Li Xuejian. (Mandarin dialogue)

Youthful passion and faithful devotion are lovingly depicted in Zhang Yimou’s “Under The Hawthorn Tree.” In the vein of the exquisite mellers (“Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles,” “The Road Home”) the helmer delivers between flashy epics, this tender, understated romancer touches the heart with a disarming, almost stealthy sweetness. Buoyed by pleasing perfs from young newcomers Zhou Dongyu and Shawn Dou, pic has garnered more than 83 million yuan ($13.4 million) in China since mid-September release; other Asian territories will embrace the film, but less enthusiastically. After fest play, international prospects will be limited to Zhang’s loyal arthouse following.

Set during the Cultural Revolution in the early ’70s, story begins as sparrow-like teacher-in-training Jing (Zhou) journeys to Xiping, a village in Hubei province, as part of her re-education process. En route, Jing is shown an iconic Hawthorn tree that, according to local legend, blooms with red flowers, since it grew in soil enriched by the blood of Chinese soldiers fighting Japanese invaders.

During her stay in the village, Jing falls for the rustic charms of handsome geology student Sun (Dou). Though entranced by Sun’s passionate overtures, the chaste teenager is caught between romantic impulse and the discretion the turbulent times require.

Amid omnipresent images of Chairman Mao, the era’s paranoia is personified by Jing’s mother (Xi Meijuan), who, having already lost her husband (a political priosner), is vigilant about controlling her immature daughter and her habit of drawing attention to herself. When Jing returns home and her mother finds out about the blossoming romance, she insists they separate until Jing completes her teacher training at age 25. Jing is initially compliant, but the strain of separation begins to show as she learns of a disturbing rumor.

Script, based on an Internet novel by Ai Mi (who adapted her work with Yin Lichuan and Gu Xiaobai), teases with the possibility that Sun is not all that he seems, and expertly milks both sadness and joy from Jing’s naivete. Less overtly political than helmer’s 1994 Gong Li starrer, “To Live,” which was also set during the social upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, this gentle love story still offers some meaty subtext for auds willing to read between the lines (in between tissues).

In a role that has distant echoes of a performance by the helmer’s earlier thesping discovery Zhang Ziyi (no relation) in 1999’s “The Road Home,” Zhou reps the film’s enchanting powerhouse; winning thesp utterly convinces as a young woman whose sheltered life cannot protect her from love’s sometimes bitter disappointments. Dou effectively complements Zhou with his portrayal of a man whose devotion knows no bounds, and Xi impresses with her zealous portrayal of Jing’s protective and suspicious mother.

Zhang’s restrained direction embraces an old-fashioned, literary style that includes elliptical fades to black and transitional intertitles; muted colors used by the helmer’s regular d.p., Zhao Xiaoding, is in keeping with the film’s understatement. Score by Chen Qigang, with its emphatic use of the guzheng, a traditional Chinese zither-like instrument, is artful in its spare simplicity.

Under the Hawthorn Tree

(China-Hong Kong)

Production: A China Film Group/Huaxia Film Distribution Co. (in China) release of a Beijing New Picture Film Co., IDG China Creative Media, New Classical Entertainment, Film Partner Intl. production. (International sales: Edko Films, Hong Kong.) Produced by Zhang Weiping, Cao Huayi, Hugo Shong, Bill Kong. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Screenplay, Yin Lichuan, Gu Xiaobai, Ai Mi, based on Ai's novel "Hawthorn Tree Forever."

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen) Zhao Xiaoding; editor, Meng Peicong; music, Chen Qigang; art director, Wu Ming; sound (Dolby Digital), Tao Jing. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (opener), Oct. 7, 2010. Running time: 114 MIN.

With: With: Zhou Dongyu, Shawn Dou, Xi Meijuan, Jiang Ruijia, Li Xuejian. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Beatriz Bodegas on Netflix Original: ‘Who

    ‘Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?’ Producer on New Spanish Netflix Original

    BARCELONA – “Who Would You Take to a Desert Island?” is the second directorial outing from Spain’s Jota Linares (“Animales sin collar”) a Netflix Original premiering on Friday, March 22 in competition at the Malaga Spanish Language Film Festival. Starring María Pedraza, Jaime Lorente, Pol Monen and Andrea Ros, the film is the movie adaptation [...]

  • Beijing Festival Unveils 'Max Max,' 'Bourne'

    Beijing Festival Unveils 'Max Max,' 'Bourne,' Kurosawa Screening Series

    The upcoming Beijing International Film Festival will give space to high profile Hollywood franchise movies with screenings of all films in both the “Mad Max” and “Bourne Identity” series. Classic Hollywood fare will also feature prominently in a line-up that, as usual, features an eclectic grab bag of titles. The local government-backed festival opens April [...]

  • J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church

    SXSW Film Review: 'J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius'

    Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some [...]

  • 'Roll Red Roll' Review: Piercing Documentary

    Film Review: 'Roll Red Roll'

    “Roll Red Roll” is a piercingly relevant and disturbing documentary about an infamous high school rape case that took place in Steubenville, Ohio (pop. 18,600), on Aug. 11, 2012. Steubenville, the sort of Friday-night-lights small town that boasts signs that read “Kick off for Jesus,” is a place that’s good at keeping secrets. When the [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild, Hollywood Agents Negotiate With Deadline Looming

    The Writers Guild of America and Hollywood agents have held a sixth negotiating session with a deadline for a new deal 16 days away — and it’s uncertain whether progress is being made. The Association of Talent Agents made counter-proposals at Thursday’s session that contain provisions for more accountability and transparency by agencies for clients [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Fox Layoffs Leave Staffers Stunned and Saddened

    Fox employees knew this day was coming. For over a year, the men and women who work at the Century City lot have talked of little else but severance packages and job searches. They knew that when Disney wrapped up its $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox’s film and television assets, thousands [...]

  • Alan Horn Disney

    Disney Clarifies Film Leadership After Harrowing Day of Fox Layoffs

    Following the dismissal of top executives in distribution, marketing and strategy on Thursday, new 20th Century Fox owner Disney has clarified its new top leadership. Five distinct Fox labels and a portion of their leadership have been welcomed into the Disney fold, the company said. This includes Twentieth Century Fox, Fox Family, Fox Searchlight Pictures, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content