I Love You Review

Zhang Yuan is one of the most highly regarded of the young Sixth Generation of Chinese directors with a growing reputation in the West. While other young directors also work to depict how the current generation are coping with the modernisation and opening up of mainland China to outside influences, Zhang Yuan’s documentary-like style is certainly more direct than the slow, long deliberation of Jia Zhang Ke (Platform). This directness of approach is perfectly illustrated in I Love You which, with its deeply ironical title, takes a harsh look at the day-to-day realities of married life for ordinary people.

I Love You opens with a couple expressing their love and commitment to each other in their desire to marry. Their friend at driving school, Yi (Tong Dawei) can’t understand this rush to get married and tie oneself down like that, however when his friend dies in an accident and he meets Ju (Xu Jinglei) again at the hospital where she is a nurse, he soon finds himself the stand-in in a repeat of the opening scene and locked unexpectedly into a marriage neither are sure is what they really wanted.

The initial idealism of being a young married couple and the feeling of being special soon wears off and the couple soon have to face up to the harsh realities of married life – coming home and expecting the house to be clean and the dinner prepared when both are working, taking the pressures and frustrations of work home, and a gradual disillusionment that the other person can’t live up to the ideals espoused by magazines and films. Eventually, the disillusionment spills over into resentment, petty jealousies and mean-spiritedness. All the little disagreements and frustrations start to eat away at the bad marriage, but at the same time hold it together.

All this sounds like bleakly depressing, commonplace and ordinary, but its realism is actually grimly fascinating. Zhang Yuan handles the subject with such assurance, that the whole film flows as if this was the perfectly natural course of a relationship. And if the subject and its treatment sounds on paper like any soap opera you could mention, there is a deeper resonance and a superb cinematic structure to the film. It never resorts to clichés, melodramatic extra-marital affairs or excessive domestic violence. Arguments are pretty heated and blows are struck, but nothing is thrown in here for sensationalism. The performances of the two leads are truly astonishing – Xu Jinglei particularly is outstanding. There is no acting or performing here – it looks and feels like documentary realism – utterly fascinating and brilliantly realised.

Zhang Yuan’s I Love You is available on DVD in mainland China. The DVD is quite basic, non-anamorphic and barebones, but is PAL and Region Free. It is also quite inexpensive. It is available from YesAsia for about £5.00.

The picture is a little bit flat and very soft and hazy. It has none of the brilliance of the transfer on WA’s mainland China R0 release of Zhang Yuan’s subsequent 2003 film Green Tea, looking more like a VCD transfer, but a good quality VCD, with little compression artefacts. I don’t think this film would suit the glossy, immaculately lit style of Green Tea, as I Love You is shot in a much more documentary style. The presentation suits the film and is probably close to how it is supposed to look – grim and realistic, using natural light and unposed compositions, so I won’t be too harsh on the scoring here. However, the film is presented in non-anamorphic 1.66:1 and there are quite a number of marks and damage to the print – lots of dust marks and some larger artefacts. Blacks never look quite black – there is a faint greenish tint to the colour – and the overall look is quite soft. There is never really much detail present, but the apparent problems never seem to get in the way of the presentation of the film.

There is nothing special about the soundtrack on the DVD. Although the DVD case advertises Dolby Digital 5.1, it is actually Dolby Digital 2.0 and may in fact be mono. Again, I would suspect this is an accurate presentation of the original soundtrack. It’s perfectly adequate, just don’t be expecting any striking effects – it’s not that kind of film.

The subtitles are of excellent quality - clear and readable and optional with none of the minor grammatical errors of Green Tea. The English translation is really superb, seeming to capture the subtleties of the Chinese script and its keen ear for realistic dialogue.

There are no extra features included on the DVD.

This is a truly astonishing film – an non-sensationalist, unflinchingly honest and unsettlingly realistic depiction of a bad marriage that brings out the bad side of each person and feeds on their weaknesses. It’s a small independent film and the DVD transfer isn’t the best, but I would still recommend this film and DVD very highly.

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