A film built upon gay male hypersexualization overlaid with some hamfisted prose, Spring Fever turns the sadness of being gay and Chinese into a dry drama that does not say anything new about the LGBTQ experience. The film opens with a jangly driving sequence between two men, Jiang Cheng (Qin Hao) and Wang Ping (Wu Wei). Their playfulness as they bump into each other while pissing off a bridge quickly transitions into a secret afternoon tryst, where their exertions are tightly framed in shots that offer full-frontal nudity. Lou Ye’s images create the impression of a suffocating and all-encompassing desire, and the unflinching voyeurism of this sequence proves stark and striking, the two men still a mystery to the viewer. Soon, though, both come to represent muted examples of gay repression, as does a third character, Luo Haitao (Chen Sicheng), a photographer initially sent to capture Jiang and Wang’s affair but who is later seen lovingly gazing at Jiang as he performs in drag. When Jiang and Luo eventually fuck, we are met again with full-frontal sex, a cyclical development that suggests the impossibility of finding satisfaction in heteronormative conditions. Likewise, the film’s two leading women – Wang’s wife Lin Xue (Jiang Jiaqi), who initially hires Luo to follow her husband, and Li Jing (Tan Zhuo), Luo’s girlfriend – find themselves victims of heterosexual normality. When faced with the melodramatic love-triangle narratives they are part of, both women break down into fits of frustration.
The film lacks any genuine emotion or fluid lyricism, leaving Yu Dafu’s prose, which is plastered all over the screen, feeling more desperate than poignant.
The film’s action, combined with Yu Dafu’s prose, is as heavyhanded as Lou Ye’s adamant thesis that cyclical repression is the fundamental issue. In keeping with this worldview, the Nanjing of Spring Fever is greyed out and anonymous; instead of a tourist destination full of poetry and nature, it comes across as an anonymous, medium-sized Chinese city. When not looking at each other, characters avert their gaze to stone grey monuments set against smoggy skies. And despite a similarly dreary narrative tone, featuring various inclusions of suicide and attempted murder, the film lacks any genuine emotion or fluid lyricism, leaving Yu Dafu’s prose, which is plastered all over the screen, feeling more desperate than poignant. Overall, Spring Fever makes its thesis clear, but at the expense of its characters. Instead of a more truthful representation of these characters and how they see each other, Lou Ye forces everything through a voyeuristic, top-down perspective. If this directorial methodology had afforded the characters a greater sense of agency, then the vibrancy of Yu Dafu’s source texts may have come alive. Instead, Spring Fever reductively depicts the Chinese gay experience as a slow fade into an endless circle of despair.
Part of Lou Ye: Every Face Is a Mask.