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Film / Youth (2017)

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"My name is Xiao Suizi. Back in the 1970s, I was in the southwest part of the country serving in a provincial military arts troupe. I was a dancer. My comrades called me Suizi. The story that I'm about to tell is the story of our arts troupe."
— Opening narration by Xiao Suizi

Youth (芳华) is a 2017 Chinese coming-of-age drama film directed by Feng Xiaogang and written by Geling Yan. It follows a group of adolescents in a military arts troupe during and after the Cultural Revolution.

Characters include:

  • He Xiaoping: A dancer and the newest member of the troupe.
  • Liu Feng: A young man who is praised as a "living Lei Feng" (a model citizen).
  • Xiao Suizi: A dancer, writer, and the narrator.
  • Hao Shuwen: An accordion player and daughter of a high official.
  • Lin Dingding: A singer who is popular with guys, including Liu Feng.
  • Chen Can: A trumpet player Suizi likes.

Contains examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: Liu Feng loses his right arm during the war, after it's injured and he refuses to leave the field.
  • Coming of Age Story: The story follows a group of youths through the 1970s as members of a military performing arts troupe, facing personal struggles, loss of innocence, and war. When the troupe is ultimately disbanded, it's a sad day all around as they close a chapter of their lives and have to leave the place and people they've spent years with.
  • Death Seeker: At one point during the war, Liu Feng insists on being left behind while injured. Suizi, narrating, speculates that he wanted to be a martyr.
    Suizi: Only through sacrifice would his ordinary life become a hero's tale.
  • Delayed Narrator Introduction: Suizi introduces herself and the story at the start via voiceover, but does not appear in person until several minutes later, after Xiaoping has arrived at the troupe's base.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Suizi narrates the movie, but is more of an observer in events than a participant. She says in the introduction that the stars are Liu Feng and Xiaoping.
    Suizi: The story that I'm about to tell is the story of our arts troupe. But in this story, I'm not the protagonist.
  • Heroic BSoD: Xiaoping's experiences from the war leave her catatonic for a long time, not talking or responding.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Shuwen is the dorm captain and the daughter of a high official, and flaunts her family status. She is hard on Xiaoping at times, and one of the first people to make fun of her body odor. However, she doesn't go as far as some of the others do with their bullying behavior, and is shown to have sympathetic qualities. She points out to Dingding when she's being unfair to Liu Feng, and years later, sticks up for Liu Feng when she sees him being shoved around.
  • Meaningful Name: Liu Feng's name is similar to that of Lei Feng, a supposed historical figure who is held up as a model citizen. Liu Feng is praised as a living example of Lei Feng because he is always helping others and willing to do dirty work.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film is mostly backstage drama at a military performing arts troupe, and the members getting on with their lives after the troupe is disbanded ... except for fifteen minutes in the middle of people getting shot to bits in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War.
  • Moral Myopia: After some guys see Liu Feng hugging Dingding and accuse her of corrupting him, she blames Liu Feng and runs away to her dorm, crying about him being a creep. Shuwen points out that she's been with other guys and didn't call them scamps, but she insists that it's different, holding Liu Feng to another standard because of his model citizen reputation as a "living Lei Feng".
    Shuwen: You'll let a doctor and a secretary touch you, people from all professions. So why not a living Lei Feng? […] Doctor Zhang and Secretary Wu touched you, but you didn't call them scamp.
    Dingding: That is different.
    Shuwen: How is it different? Anyone has the right to pursue you.
    Dingding: But not him.
    Shuwen: Why not?
    Dingding: No reason. It's because he's a living Lei Feng. A living Lei Feng isn't allowed. Not allowed! Not at all!
  • Mundane Luxury: Xiaoping is amazed at being able to shower every day, since she couldn't afford it back home.
    Xiaoping: It cost 0.15 yuan every time. Too expensive, my mom said. So usually I'd boil water at home for a scrub down. But to shower every day — what a joy to be a soldier!
  • The Oner: There is a six-and-a-half minute long continuous take set during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War when Liu Feng's company is ambushed.
  • Opening Monologue: Suizi's opening narration introduces herself, the story, and two of the main characters.
    Suizi: My name is Xiao Suizi. Back in the 1970s, I was in the southwest part of the country serving in a provincial military arts troupe. I was a dancer. My comrades called me Suizi. The story that I'm about to tell is the story of our arts troupe. But in this story, I'm not the protagonist. It stars two people.
    [A soldier is seen assisting someone in a raincoat]
    Suizi: His name is Liu Feng. When we sung praises of overlooked heroes and lauded great standouts from the masses, we were praising people like Liu Feng. The girl in the raincoat is named He Xiaoping. A new member of our troupe whom Liu Feng was sent to fetch. Their fate decades later was set in motion on the day he brought her to the troupe.
  • Pictorial Letter Substitution: In the logo for the Chinese title, 芳华, the bottom part of the character 华 is the silhouette of a dancer balanced on the toes of one foot, with one arm stretched out in front of her (making up the left-pointing part) and her other arm and leg pointing backwards (making up the right-pointing part). The movie is about a performing arts troupe, which includes dancers.
  • Playing Sick: Xiaoping plays sick to try and get out of performing. When she's given a thermometer, she swaps it for another one to simulate a fever.
  • Really 17 Years Old: Shi Linfeng, the soldier with full-body burns, is said to be seventeen. He confesses that he lied to recruitment and is actually sixteen.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: While Dingding is aiming at a target on the shooting range, a photographer pops up and asks her to look at him. She turns, swinging the gun towards him, and the shooting instructor jumps in to yank it up toward the sky before lambasting both of them.
  • Releasing from the Promise: After Shuwen helps Liu Feng out of a jam by paying for his impounded truck, he writes her an IOU. She promptly tears it up.
  • Time Skip: The story jumps forward a few times. Among others, there's a time skip of one year after the end of the war, and after the troupe disbands, there's a skip of about 11 years to 1991.
  • War Is Hell: The characters end up involved in the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. Soldiers are seen with horrific injuries, one having burns all over his body. Xiaoping ends up traumatized, and Liu Feng an amputee.