Business leaders savor film set in romantic era
To many Chinese, the early 1980s were part of a “golden era” for idealists.
A romance film named after the decade has recently made a nostalgic splash among those missing their lost youth and dreams.
Love in the 1980s, adapted from a best-selling novel of the same name, opened in mainland theaters on Sept 11, which seems an awkward timing wedged between Hollywood blockbusters Mission Impossible 5 (Sept 8) and Minions (Sept 13).
But the art-house romance drama surprised most insiders, with more than 100 big names from business tycoons to art moguls, turning up at last Thursday’s sneak preview.
The guest list included Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi, New Oriental chairman Yu Minhong, former Huayuan CEO Ren Zhiqiang, and HKS former executive director Yang Jinlin.
Most of the business leaders had strived and struggled in the ’80s to achieve their present-day success, which makes the decade resonate with significance for them.
“The early years in that decade witnessed the turning point, when literature and culture emerged from depression to boom,” says Yang.
Romantic relationships in that decade meant more self-restraint and tolerance for the partner. That’s hard for Chinese in their 20s or 30s to understand, Yang adds.
Directed by Huo Jianqi, an arthouse Chinese filmmaker who is also popular in Japan, the storyline flows in a pacing similar to that of “an essay poem”, says Liu.
Set in a picturesque town in Central China’s Hubei province, the movie revolves around a bittersweet love between the saleswoman of a cooperative store and a college graduate, who is assigned to work in the local government. Hindered by the identity gap — college graduates were rare and thus had great promise at the time — the heroine holds back her love until the end of her life.
Chinahadseen a series of changes thanks to the reform and openingup policy, but love remained a forbidden zone in public discourse in the early part of that decade.
“Hugging and kissing
were regarded as daredevil acts,” recalls Yi Zhongtian, a famed historian. “In love letters, people still quoted Chairman Mao’s words and addressed (their beloved) as ‘comrade’.”
Usually a movie highlights showbiz stars, but Love owes its reputation to its writer, Zheng Shiping, familiar by his pen name Yefu. To commemorate his first lover, Zheng wrote the semi-biographical novel during a stay in Germany.
“The romances in the 1980s were purer, more simple and restrained,” Zheng says, explaining that the nation’s struggling economy back then made millions of people live in poverty, and daily survival was the priority.
“But it made us not so materialoriented like some in today’s society. Girls preferred to give their hearts to the men who could write poems,” he says.
“That may explain the number of modern poets peaking in that era. Writing poems was fashionable, just like today’s pursuit of big brands.”