Amnesia of the sensual: the film Spring Fever

The film opens with two men, Jiang Cheng (played by Qin Hao) and Wang Ping (Wu Wei),  driving to their secret hideout in the woods outside Nanjing where they have their tryst. That escape, both physically and emotionally, is the happiest point in the film. Alas the outside world begins to intrude. Unknown to them, they have been followed by Luo Haitao (Chen Sicheng), taking pictures of them.

Luo had been hired by Wang Ping’s wife, Lin Xue (Jiang Jiaqi), who had suspected her husband of infidelity, except that she thought it was with another woman.

(Same trailer also available at

Luo reports his findings to his client and points out to her, from a distance, the other man in her husband’s life. She instructs him to continue following the men.

Still oblivious to this, Wang Ping persuades Jiang Cheng to meet his wife, evidently in the hope that they might be friends, so as to give  more stability to their furtive relationship. However, the secret is quickly exposed, providing the first burst of violence to rupture the calm. A day later, the wife barges into Jiang Cheng’s office, making a scene, insisting that he should never see her husband again.

Despite this, Wang Ping wants to continue the relationship, but Jiang Cheng avoids him, perhaps thinking it’s too much trouble. He bottles up his feelings for Wang Ping and revisits his old haunts of gay bars. Luo continues to follow him, making contact in an unplanned way, and allowing his own bi-curious side to take the upper hand.

A new love triangle develops, between Jiang Cheng, Luo and Luo’s occasional girlfriend Li Jing (Tan Zhuo). This time, Jiang Cheng tries to accommodate the woman in the middle, but even so, there is no stability.

Spring Fever (In Chinese: Chunfeng chenzui de yewan. In French: Nuits d’Ivresse Printanière. More accurately: Drunken spring nights) is the latest work by director Lou Ye, who is under a five-year ban by the Chinese government for his 2006 film Summer Palace that had the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown as the backdrop.  As a result of the ban, Spring Fever, a Hongkong-French co-production, was filmed surreptitiously with digital equipment in Nanjing. The result shows in the hand-held camera work, the frequent use of extreme close-ups, graininess and insufficient lighting in several indoor scenes. From the occasional abruptness, I suspect the film has suffered cuts in Singapore as well.

Amazingly, it won an award in Cannes for best screenplay in 2009. It couldn’t have been for any of its sparse dialogue. Perhaps it was for its story arc, though even here it is hard to believe. The character of Wang Ping was shortchanged after his wife found out about the affair. What did he want? What further developed between him and his wife?

The tensions built up in the first half of the story were just abandoned in the second half. Most crucially, the fact that Luo Haitao had been the agent who exposed and destroyed Jiang Cheng’s first relationship, was totally ignored when Luo himself got involved with Jiang Cheng. To leave such rich dramatic material unused for the rest of the story is almost criminal.

Looking past the somewhat indulgent direction, it appears that Lou Ye intended a film that is focussed intensely on the personal and the subjective, and therein lies its saving grace. Decent performances by the key actors make up for the script’s lapses, slightly brutal scene slicing and some maddeningly dim shots. There are moments, such as when Li Jing sings alone in a karaoke room, when the pain and bewilderment of the characters is subtly conveyed without over-drama. Even more deftly conveyed is the moment when Luo Haitao realises he has lost Jiang Cheng.

The two relationships that Jiang Cheng has in the film will be familiar to many gay men, especially those in repressed societies. Jiang Cheng himself is portrayed as a relatively out gay man — in fact, a modern-day macaroni — but the first romance is with a married, though apparently homosexual, lover, with all the suffocation that such entails. The second is with a bisexual guy, with no end of equivocation.

Yet the film is not really about homosexual relationships. The heterosexual men — minor characters — are equally aimless and superficial in their lust. The bi-curious Luo is quite careless about Li Jing, who sees herself as his girlfriend. Heterosexual, homosexual or in-between, every male character, including Li Jing’s boss and the boss’ restaurant-owner buddy, is led by his dick rather than his head — drunk on the sensual as indicated by the film’s title. There is no time for reflection or even communication with each other. When problems surface,  they can’t sort out their feelings. Life is all drift and the erotic ultimately purposeless. The film thus suggests a commentary on Chinese society today that has rediscovered sexual freedom, but if the bleak ending with a totally defeated Jiang Cheng regretting that he didn’t know love when he had it, is any indication, that commentary is not a flattering one.

Official film website (in French):

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The review by the Straits Times (17 Nov 2010) is terrible. I have the feeling the reviewer Dave Chua has absolutely no clue about homosexual feelings or relationships. For example, he wrote: “the ending, where at least one of the characters apparently finds happiness, feels tacked on.”

He completely failed to see what the ending was about. It wasn’t a happy one; if anything it was completely drained of feeling. The connection between the two persons in the final scene was performative rather than emotional and the only feeling was that of sexual gratification, dispensed/received at arm’s length.

He also wrote: “The film’s most malleable character, Haitao, is like a window shopper, and even when he becomes involved with Jiang Chen, there is a sense of detachment, as though he is merely trying his hand at being in a gay relationship.”

But that was the very point. As the slightly bisexual, but mainly heterosexual character, Luo Haitao could never throw himself into a fully-involved relationship with Jiang Cheng. Far from being a flaw in the script or acting, this was the very essence of his character, and the seed from which the second crisis would emerge.


4 Responses to “Amnesia of the sensual: the film Spring Fever”

  1. 1 snappyfingers 19 November 2010 at 02:45

    Is this film now showing in Singapore?

  2. 3 thornofplenty 20 November 2010 at 05:50

    Not that the West and Hollywood are all that, becasue they really aren’t.
    But the synopses of the movie, as written here by YB and in other places read like Brokeback Mountain without the sheep.
    I do still want to see it though.
    Representations of non-white queer male masculinity are really important.

  3. 4 kelvin 24 November 2010 at 11:05

    Saw the film last night. Enjoyed it. But i thought the ending was quite illogical. Kind a spoiled it.

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