by Lawrence Garcia Film Retrospective

Weekend Lover | Lou Ye

May 14, 2019

The most striking aspect of Weekend Lover, the directorial debut of Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye, is its palpable sense of existence as a kind of ceaseless struggle. Indeed, the film itself feels practically willed into existence, exhibiting a preponderance of brash style and a boundless (though at times erratic) energy that marks it as an early work, as if Lou feared he’d never make another movie. (The film was banned for two years following completion — it’s actually Lou’s second to premiere internationally — so perhaps this is apropos.) Set in the streets of Shanghai — Lou’s home city — the film follows A Xi (Jia Hongsheng), a young layabout imprisoned for the murder of another teenager; upon his release, years later, A Xi attempts to track down Li Xin (Ma Xiaoqing), his former girlfriend, who is now carrying on with La La (Wang Zhiwen). The story boils down to a struggle between the two men for Li Xin’s affection, though the dominant impression is of aimless lives just crossing and recrossing, of disaffected youths borne by little more than their barely-defined longings.

Throughout the film, Lou often tends to prioritize striking gesture and moody portent over cogent psychology or fluid emotionalism, which makes for intermittently charged, though ultimately unsatisfying viewing.

Given Weekend Lover’s proximity to the release of 1994’s Chungking Express, it’s tempting to compare Lou to Wong Kar-Wai, with whom he does share a predilection for fleet, on-the-fly shooting and the unique properties of urban life—the opportunities it affords for chance meetings and unlikely coincidences. (The latter, one sees in the film’s most memorable sequence, where the camera roves through the city streets following a single sheet of paper, which is here represented by an amusingly chintzy animation in the rough center of the frame.) Though where Wong tends towards the swooningly romantic, Lou’s films more often skew fatalistic. From the jump, the film’s narration creates an air of inevitability, so even its most buoyant moments are short-lived. (“We felt the whole world belonged to us, as if everything would last forever. But we didn’t know what would happen.”) It seems no accident that there always seems to be a storm brewing on the horizon—and when the rain eventually falls, violence comes with it. Throughout the film, Lou often tends to prioritize striking gesture and moody portent over cogent psychology or fluid emotionalism, which makes for intermittently charged, though ultimately unsatisfying viewing. Still, Weekend Lover’s influence among the Sixth Generation filmmakers can’t be discounted. (Fellow director Wang Xiaoshuai appears in a minor role.) And at the very least, the film makes for a bold, intriguing baseline to a career.

Part of Lou Ye: Every Face Is a Mask.

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