Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Li Yu’s Ever Since We Love

It would be much harder to produce this film in China today than it was in 2015. For one thing, it stars Fan Bingbing, who was the first target of Xi’s crackdown on movie-stars, for having movie-star values. It was directed by Li Yu, who faced state censorship issues early in her career. As a capper, it adapts Feng Tang’s sexually explicit novel (a bestseller in HK). However, fans of Fan and the novel should be pleased by the sexy, tragic melodrama of Li’s Ever Since We Love, which is finally getting an American release this Friday thanks to distributor Cheng Cheng Films’ commitment to her work.

Qiu Shui is like the Hawkeye or Trapper John of his 1990s Beijing medical school. The slacker largely cruises through classes, spending more time writing the knock-off Kung Fu novels that pay his tuition than actually studying. In contrast, his classmate girlfriend Bai Lu is a model of studiousness, but Qiu is incapable of properly committing, because he has yet to recover from being dumped by his hometown girlfriend.

One fateful day, Qiu happens to meet Liu Qing, a mysterious older but strikingly beautiful woman—and suddenly all bets are off. Despite attempts to keep his options open with Bai, it is pretty clear he is obsessed with Liu, who equally clearly already has her own share of shady lovers in the picture.

Li and cinematographer Zeng Jian (who lensed several Lou Ye films) shot
ESWL like an art film, but the narrative is a weird blend of randy student antics and weepy soap opera fare, sort of like a throwback to 1980’s films like St. Elmo’s Fire and Cocktail. That also makes it an unexpected guilty pleasure.

Unfortunately, we probably won’t be seeing much of Fan in new releases for a while, but she is terrific as Liu. She smolders up the screen, while still projecting aching vulnerability. For most of the film, viewers will just want to slap Han Geng’s caddish Qiu, but when karma comes around for him, you can’t help feeling for the guy. Also, Qi Xi brings impressive human dimension to Bai, making her substantially more than the spurned uptight girlfriend.

The performances are solid, but they are totally in service of a shamelessly manipulative tear-jerking soap opera. There is no actual nudity, but most of the med students are generally less mature than the
American Pie kids. Aside from Qiu and his lovers, Zhang Boyu definitely stands out as the schlubby striving Hou Pu (think of him as the equivalent of Bell in The Paperchase). Regardless, it is actually entertaining as an emotional roller-coaster, especially since it also comes with plenty of seduction. Definitely recommended for Fan Bingbing’s fans (keep the faith you all), Ever Since We Love opens this Friday (9/17) in select theaters, including the Denver Film Society.