The literal translation of Don’t Be Young‘s Chinese title, “Wei Qing Shao Nu,“ means “Emotional Young Lady”— and it is, in many ways, a more than appropriate title for Lou Ye’s debut*. But the film’s stateside-given name serves a more theoretical purpose connected to its horror premise: a warning for our pale-faced, often frantic Gen X protagonists that being a fledgling adolescent born into a rapidly expanding economic system is its own hellish nightmare. The young here are haunted by the sins of their parents, and forced into a bleak existence of volatile uncertainty. One of these despondent youths is Wang Hao (Qu Ying), who has visions of her dead mother haunting their family’s decrepit three-story home, where she has just moved in with her boyfriend, Lu Mang (You Yong). Wang’s insistence for relocating here comes from the nagging suspicion that her mother’s suicide was triggered from outside events. Soon, a convoluted series of events begins to unfold, and the truth is ultimately revealed after a rapid barrage of half-baked revelations and laughably-realized dream sequences (all shot with a low-contrast blue filter, making everyone involved appear deathly ill).
What’s really going bump in the night is the generational trauma that looms over an emerging generation still healing from the events of Tiananmen.
This is all to suggest that Don’t Be Young is more compelling for its intentionality than it is actually well executed, with Lou’s interest in Wang Hao’s internal conflicts being purely a means to mine political implications. What’s really going bump in the night is the generational trauma that looms over an emerging generation still healing from the events of Tiananmen, with skyrocketing unemployment and a broken social welfare system only adding to the melancholic national sentiment. Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t leave Wang Hao with much interiority beyond being the victim of some nonsensical plot developments in the film’s second-half (involving an untested drug that makes users lose control of their nervous system) — which is also when this film substantially drops its dreary sociopolitical subtext and just becomes a largely incoherent slasher flick with supernatural elements. Demons are eventually purged, real family lineages are divulged, and Lu Mang — who has spent a considerable amount of the runtime leading up to the climax either off-screen or walking around train stations — gets to play the hero and bring his ‘emotional young lady’ lover out of the horrors of the not-so-distant past, as they advance together into a more ‘hopeful’ decade for them and their country.
*only by a release date technicality, since he finished Weekend Lover first, in 1993, but due to censorship issues, it didn’t premiere until 1995.
Part of Lou Ye: Every Face Is a Mask.