Scorned between two lovers: Li Jin (Zhou Tan) in Spring Fever.
Love plus one
By Don Simpson
Director Ye Lou is hardly a darling of the China's aging government. His debut feature, Weekend Lover (1994), was censored by the Chinese government; his Suzhou River (2000), filmed clandestinely on the streets of Shanghai, was banned in China yet won the Grand Prize at the Rotterdam Film Festival; his Summer Palace, which included explicit sex scenes and touched on the 1989 events surrounding Tienanmen Square, screened at Cannes in 2006 and resulted in Lou’s ban by the Chinese Film Bureau for five years.
But that did not stop him from making his latest film, Spring Fever. Filmed under the radar of the Chinese government in Nanjing, Lou circumvented the Bureau’s five-year filmmaking ban by registering the film as a Hong Kong-French co-production.
Considering the film's content it would not be a stretch of the imagination China's government would not approve of Spring Fever, either.
Wang Ping’s (Wei Wu) schoolteacher wife (Jiaqi Jiang) has hired Luo Haitao (Sicheng Chen) to track and photograph her wandering husband who is in the midst of an extra-marital relationship…with a man, Jiang Cheng (Hao Qin). When that love triangle shatters, Luo becomes Jiang’s rebound; but Luo also has a girlfriend, Li Jing (Zhou Tan), who works at a counterfeit textile factory. So, once again, Jiang finds himself sharing his man with a woman.
The multiple love “triangles” of Spring Fever lack their third side which means there is always a third wheel, and with a third wheel jealousy and animosity abound. (Critics have been quick to pounce on obvious analogies to Jules and Jim.) There lies the drama within Spring Fever. Jiang Chang has no interest in his partners’ “other women” and the ladies certainly have no interest in him.
The spring fever of the film’s title refers to the hormones (and feverish craziness) bubbling over within the characters. It is as if everyone in Spring Fever is an animal in heat. Just as the flowers are blooming, so do love affairs. The “drunken spring nights” will eventually end; the flowers must die and so must love.
Despite the images of sunshine and flowers that come to mind upon hearing the bright and cheery title, Spring Fever takes place primarily in the shadows and dark recesses of the night. Blackness engulfs the screen, as restrained splashes of fluorescent red and green hues render the actors’ faces barely identifiable (which may make it difficult for some Western audiences to follow the complex web of relationships). The furtive visual elements of the film are understandable because gays in China are destined to remain confined to the shadows since being homosexual is still classified as a mental illness.
Cinematically, Spring Fever appears illicit and clandestine using only existing light sources and handheld camerawork -- which also conveys a haphazard narrative in which a spy (in this case the audience) only knows where their subject is at the present and is unable to prepare for the subject’s next move.
Visually impressionistic and linguistically sparse yet poetic, Spring Fever is like a recollection of faint remnants of a dream. There are moments of clarity in which onscreen events appear clearly and unfold sensibly, but the rest is just a beautifully mysterious blur.