Lou Ye was banned from making films for five years by the Chinese government after “Summer Palace” screened at Cannes in 2006 without their approval. Which means it’s some sort of act of defiance and bravery, sure, for him to have since then made “Spring Fever,” which this year premieres in competition. But the film is pure soap opera under the scarcest sheen of something higher, a love pentagon set in neon-and-concrete Nanjing. Jiang Cheng (Qin Hao) is its central tragic gay, subject to various emotional and physical beatings, who when things begin is traveling with his married lover to a rural trysting spot. The man’s wife suspects him of cheating and hires the aimless Luo Haitao (Chen Sicheng) to spy on the two. When the situation unavoidably implodes, Jiang Cheng tries to heal his broken heart by moving on to a whole new ill-advised relationship with a man already involved with a woman, developing a flirty friendship with the apparently game Luo Haitao that slips into something more. Luo Haitao’s girlfriend develops problems of her own when the factory in which she works is shut down, and she’s so heartbroken when she learns of his new liaison that she creeps off to cry and sing karaoke.
Dishes are also thrown, songs are performed in drag, poetry is splashed on screen, there’s a razor attack and a fair amount of explicit sex, mostly between the men — yes, yes, defiant and brave and so on. But while Lou Ye does valiantly attempt to showcase a subsection of mainland Chinese life that’s simply not put on screen, he never raises his characters out of their flatly assigned roles, and some, like Luo Haitao’s girlfriend Li Jing, are really just doleful ciphers, their dramas impossible to invest in, a lot of sound, fury and shower scenes, signifying nothing.