Under the Hawthorn Tree

2010 [CHINESE]

Drama / Romance

Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 76%
IMDb Rating 7.1 10 3281

Plot summary

October 08, 2022 at 10:27 PM


Yimou Zhang

Top cast

720p.BLU 1080p.BLU
1.02 GB
Chinese 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 55 min
P/S ...
2.1 GB
Chinese 5.1
23.976 fps
1 hr 55 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by DICK STEEL 8 / 10

A Nutshell Review: Under the Hawthorn Tree

With his many recent works that are nothing short of being opulent, and an Olympic project that was sheer spectacle, director Zhang Yimou still shows he has what it takes to take it down some notches in telling a simple, but no less emotional, tale of first love and romance, set during the Cultural Revolution in 60s and 70s China. It is this historical setting that perhaps piqued interest in bringing the Internet novel by Ai Mi onto the big screen, which lifts it beyond a typical romantic weepy.

Starring newcomer Zhou Dongyu - mind you Zhang Yimou has this knack of bringing new faces to the scene - and Shawn Dou as the star crossed lovers Jing and Sun respectively, the story tackles both the saccharine sweet moments that the duo have to steal away from society's prying eyes, and that of objections that come from Jing's mother. It's a time when Chairman Mao is very much revered, and the story takes aim at how his policies impacted the ordinary man on the street, giving rise to complications on survival matters, especially if you're deemed an intellect and are sent to be re-educated as with Jing's father, held as a political prisoner, and her teacher mom into becoming a school cleaner, earning extra through the folding 1000 envelopes for a single cent.

Constantly cautioned on her family's lack of status and being under the scrutiny of the powers that be, hopes are pinned on Jing as the next generation to lift their family's plight, since there are also two other younger siblings to take care of, rather than to spend time in romantic affairs of the heart with Sun. But undeterred, both parties forge on despite the rich and poor, have and have not divide, with Sun's more privileged background meant a lot more giving on materials on his end to ensure that his loved one makes it through what life has dished out to her under the current circumstances.

The story also doesn't shy away from the airing of grouses, which is probably quite unheard of and bordering on treason too, at least for its time when such statements get made in hushed tones. While one can be quite gung ho about it as proclaiming one's love for another, it's another ball game altogether when taking pot shots at an establishment. The secrecy of the lovers relationship provide ample moments for the usual tried and tested formula of stolen glances, growing into more daring meets involving some frolicking into a river, and moments of temptation when they're all but alone in a rented room.

Having the lovers meet when Jing was sent to the countryside as part of curricular and Sun being attached to a geological project meant the film can bask in a lot of lush landscapes brought out by beautiful cinematography. The art direction was top notch to make this period piece believable, and some of the best moments in the film occur when little things get detailed and time spent to showcase it, such as the amount of propaganda posters pasted on walls, as well as that of a rousing morale boosting song performed by the students with aplomb, even if some of them do not quite actually harbour the same sentiments as what's being sung out loud.

The fresh faced leads also breathed some life into what would be a typical narrative of a romantic weepy. Zhou Dongyu is excellent as the innocent and wide-eyed girl who takes on a very firm stance against her mother's wishes, putting a risk in jeopardizing her family's fate, and that of her own future, should she be found out. Shawn Dou plays his hunky character of the almost perfect man with that steely determination of wanting the best for his loved one, yet being presented with a dilemma of a request made by an elder, which I'm sure many guys out there would share in similar emotions if put in the same boat. At some angles he reminded me of a certain television actor in Singapore as well, but blessed with better acting ability.

In a way the story's quite sprawling, and not everything from the novel can be filmed without sacrificing pace, and this accounted for the very frequent use of intertitles to split the scenes into logical chapters. I would rank this as one of Zhang Yimou's more accessible films, and certainly one that shows he's more than capable to tackle a rather straightforward tale no lacking in powerful emotions and melodrama. Recommended!

Reviewed by rubenm 7 / 10

Simple, but delicious

In some restaurants, the chef goes out of his way to create complex dishes, with intricate combinations of tastes, colours and cooking styles. Others specialize in simple dishes, that stand out because of the quality of the ingredients. A simple pasta pesto can be a treat if it's made with the best olive oil, freshly grated parmesan and homegrown basil.

Under the Hawthorn Tree is like such a simple, but delicious dish. It's a straightforward story of a forbidden love, told in a basic way, without many frills. But Zhang Yimou is such a craftsman, that he doesn't need much to make a great movie.

The story is set during the cultural revolution, a period of ruthless oppression by the communist regime. The young girl Jing is being watched by the authorities because her father was a 'reactionary' and she risks losing her job as a teacher. During a trip to the countryside she falls in love with Sun. Her mother is afraid the affair will harm Jing's future career, and she forbids the two lovers to see each other.

Zhang Yimou tells the story in a simple way, focusing on the two lovers. He uses title cards to make the story go forward, a smart move because it prevents the script from having to explain too much. In this way, Zhang concentrates on the story of Jing and her lover Sun, and nothing else.

China in the seventies was a country where people led simple lives. Zhang emphasizes this by using simple props, like a goldfish key-chain made of yarn and beads, or a metal bowl with a special decoration. The hawthorn tree from the title also has a symbolic meaning, and in the very last image of the movie, when we see the tree blossoming, Zhang has an unexpected surprise that will make you smile.

The acting is wonderful. The two leads tell just as much with their eyes, their laughs and their expressions as with their words. Take for example the scene where Jing gives her goldfish to Sun, and the camera lingers on their faces to show us how they feel. Wonderful film making.

With this film, Zhang Yimou returns to his earlier style of film making, telling stories about the daily life in China. Under the Hawthorn Tree has more in common with his lesser-known films like Not One Less or The Road Home, than with his visually more spectacular films like The House of Flying Daggers, or even Raise The Red Lantern.

Some people may be disappointed by the slow story, in which nothing spectacular happens. But some of history's greatest film classics are slow and subtle. In a way, Under the Hawthorn Tree made me think of David Lean's classic Brief Encounter, another story about a forbidden love, that stands out because of the impeccable directing and acting.

Reviewed by Eternality 8 / 10

With Hawthorn Tree, Zhang has made a romance picture that is not only memorable for the star performance by Zhou, but also admirable for the film's artful simplicity.

After the debacle that was A Woman, a Gun, and a Noodle Shop (2009), a disappointing remake of the Coens' Blood Simple (1984), Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou restores his reputation with his latest effort that is a nostalgic throwback to the pre-Hero period in the nineties that made the director one of the few Asian masters of the dramatic form. Under the Hawthorn Tree is clearly not Zhang at the top of his game, but it is a reminder of his talent in crafting powerful tearjerkers set in the various turbulent eras of China's modern history.

Hawthorn Tree is similar to The Road Home (2000) in approach. It is a beautiful love story acted out by a competent cast, at times playful, at times emotional, but never too overtly sentimental. This is especially so for Hawthorn Tree, which some have described as "the purest love story ever told", and I believe it just might be true. I have not seen a filmmaker approach the near-ancient notion of "love at first sight" and "the blossoming of a boy-girl romance" with such purity and subtlety in direction and narration in years.

Zhang has unearthed a new acting gem in Zhou Dongyu, a young actress who may just be the next "Gong Li", that is if she continues to place herself under the director's radar for the next decade. Like Zhang Ziyi, who similarly made her debut in The Road Home, Zhou's acting is striking because she balances restrain with her natural ability to emote, the latter very potently displayed in the film's final act. Her chemistry with the male lead, played by Shawn Dou, who is also a newcomer, is strong enough for Zhang to heavily rely on to engage viewers.

As always for every Zhang film, the cinematography by Zhao Xiaoding (an Oscar nominee for House of Flying Daggers (2004)), is stunning, as the film captures and juxtaposes the misty villages with dusty urban buildings in great visual detail. Admirers of Zhang's visual style however would notice that Hawthorn Tree does not feature the flamboyant colors that characterize most of his works such as Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Hero (2002), and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). Yes, the color palette is more muted here, and there is a reason for it.

I would think Zhang desires to paint a more poetic picture rather than being unnecessarily grandeur. After all, this is a film about the innocence of first love. With Under the Hawthorn Tree, Zhang has made a romance picture that is not only memorable for the star performance by Zhou, but also admirable for the film's artful simplicity.

GRADE: B (www.filmnomenon.blogspot.com) All rights reserved

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