Feng Xiaogang’s ‘Youth’ celebrates how rich the narrative texture of Mainland Chinese cinema can be. How its stories can be as real and turbulent as its modern history. It sweeps through the lives of members of a Chinese military performance troupe from the 1970s to the 1990s in a whirl of grand, dramatic gestures. Based on novelist Yan Geling’s adaptation of her own novel – which in turn was based on the writer’s 13-year spell as a dancer in an arts troupe in the Chinese Army, Feng, who worked in a military arts group himself in his youth, seeks to remind modern audiences how those young soldiers from a seemingly more dogmatic era could be just as selfish, sexual, superficial and human as anyone their age in the here and now. And how fate can twist at the expense of the stained, even the faultless who are outcasts. But life goes on. By the third act, it appears this can be Feng’s most pessimistic film to date. Until the narrator offers some semblance of poetic justice from her insights. George Bernard Shaw may say youth is wasted on the young, but at the end of 2 hours and 26 minutes, audiences would have lived the full lives of the characters and savoured what it was like to be a part of that colourful Chinese history.


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