After I Am Not Madame Bovary, presented in 2017 at the FEFF, Feng Xiaogang makes a return to the historical drama already tackled in films like Aftershock and Assembly, but in a more personal vein, telling the story of the director’s own generation. The screenplay for Youth is by the famous writer Yan Geling. The original cut of the film was 146 minutes, and the release was planned for the national holidays in October, but for reasons as yet still unclear, the film ended up being released in December with a running time reduced by 10 minutes.

Youth is a celebration of youngsters with crucial historical events propping up the narrative; it begins in the 1970s, with the Cultural Revolution in full swing, in a province in the south-west of the country where an army dance troupe is training. Xiao Suizi, one of the members of the troupe – who then went on to become a writer – narrates the tale off-screen, re-evoking younger days. The film opens with a close-up image of a poster of Mao; indeed, revolution iconography makes a regular appearance throughout the film, and the characters portrayed in it seem to almost bring to life the aesthetic ideals of the perfect revolutionary. The beauty of the members of the troupe and the grace and energy they embody while singing and dancing on stage seem to be a hymn to the purity of youth, despite the narrative gradually unveiling dynamics within the group that are far from ideal.

The story revolves around some members of the troupe: He Xiaoping is a girl who comes from a problem family: her father is in a re-education camp, her mother abandoned her, so joining the army was the only way to feel of use socially. Liu Feng is the hero of the group: a young man totally devoted to his political ideals, he puts himself at the service of others to the point that he is often compared to Lei Feng, a legendary revolutionary soldier. Others come from families higher up on the social hierarchy: Shuwen is the daughter of a party leader, and takes every opportunity to point it out to the others, trying to take command of the group itself; Ding Ding is a girl from Shanghai, a bit of a snob, she acts likes the archetypal spoilt brat. Suizi is also from a family compromised politically, but she manages to maintain a cool distance, which makes her less vulnerable.

Xiaoping, naïve and insecure, rapidly becomes the group laughing stock, they turn on her, and it even gets physical at one point. The lives of the troupe members seem carefree, spent in training, playing sport, falling in love, jealousies, but the feeling of an imminent tragedy about to befall remains. With Mao’s death, the group’s story changes in parallel to the transformations that take place in Chinese society. Following economic reforms, society is gradually altered, universities open up again, tensions with Vietnam turn into a conflict, the outside world begins to penetrate the group with temptations that range from fashionable clothes arriving from Hong Kong to music by Teresa Teng, who they all fall in love with as she gives voice to their repressed thoughts and feelings. But when even Liu Feng momentarily lets slip the heroic figure he has constructed for himself to behave like a normal young man, the group cannot forgive him: he is unjustly accused of harassment and sent to fight on the war front. Xioaping is the only one who defends him and, disgusted by the situation, leaves the troupe to go and work in a field hospital, where she finally earns society’s respect thanks to acts of heroism which, however, have disastrous consequences on her mental health.

The history of China continues to play a determining role on the destiny of the troupe, which is eventually forced to break up amidst rivers of tears – the members feel that they are not only losing their colleagues, but a family. The group members continue to cross paths over the years – they tend to be overtaken by market values, some reluctantly, others more willingly. Suizi’s memories are increasingly tinged with nostalgia, to the crescendo of 2016 when, at the group’s last encounter, she asks “forgiveness if we don’t show our aged faces, the screen should preserve the image of our youth.

Feng Xiaogang

Feng Xiaogang (1958, Beijing). Considered by some to be the Steven Spielberg of China, he is the most commercially successful director in Chinese history. He has always been on the vanguard of genre cinema, becoming famous in the 90s for the so-called hesuipian films – end of year releases – which testified to the changes taking place in contemporary Chinese society, through the stories of ordinary people. In more recent years, Feng has increasingly distanced himself from the comedy genre to concentrate on dramas and historical films. 
He won the award for Best Director three times at the Hundred Flowers Awards in China, as well as numerous international prizes.


1994 – Lost My Love 
1997 – Dream Factory 
1998 – Be There or Be Square 
1999 – Sorry Baby 
2000 – A Sigh (2000)
2001 – Big Shot’s Funeral 
2003 – Cell Phone 
2004 – A World Without Thieves  
2006 – The Banquet 
2007 – Assembly 
2008 – If You Are the One 
2010 – Aftershock 
2010 – If You Are the One II 
2012 – Back to 1942 
2013 – Personal Tailor 
2016 – I Am Not Madame Bovary 
2017 – Youth
Maria Barbieri
Film director: FENG Xiaogang
Year: 2017
Running time: 136'
Country: China
23/04 - 4.20 PM
23-04-2018 16:20 23-04-2018 18:36Europe/Rome Youth Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine
25/04 - 11.05 AM
25-04-2018 11:05 25-04-2018 13:21Europe/Rome Youth Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine