Girl A meets Boy A. Boy A and Girl A get it on, but then Girl B comes into the picture, and Boy A has to choose. Something earth shattering happens, blah blah blah, sounds annoyingly, complicatedly… familiar?

Luckily for us, Under The Hawthorn Tree is nothing like that. In an era whereby mind-blurring twists in romance movies have become the norm, it is refreshing to finally find a film that proves you don’t need a multitude of OMG moments and third parties to tell a good love story.

Based on a true story from 2007 best-selling novel Hawthorn Tree Forever by Chinese author Aimi, Under The Hawthorn Tree is the latest production from acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, who famously brought us Curse of the Golden Flower and House of Flying Daggers.

Set against the events of China’s Cultural Revolution in the early 70s, the movie tells the story of wide-eyed city girl Jing (Zhou Dongyu), a high school student who is sent to the countryside to be educated by peasants under Chairman Mao’s ‘a classroom in every field’ policy.

There, she meets the genial Sun (Shawn Dou), a soldier from a powerful military family. While Sun is a part of the elite, Jing’s father is an imprisoned political right-winger and she lives in poverty. Despite their conflicting circumstances, the two fall in love.

Predictable? Yes. But what makes Under The Hawthorn Tree such a winner despite its cliché and unsurprising turn of events is the strong performance of the two young leads. 18-year-old Zhou and 22-year-old Dou share a wonderful chemistry, convincingly conveying the tender awkwardness and uncertainty of young love.

Hence, the romantic scenes between the duo are especially raw and earnest, making for a compelling watch. Unsurprisingly for a film set in the conservative 70s, there’s a lot of propriety and ‘Do-I-let-him-hold-my-hand-Is-he-going-to-kiss-me-yet’ tension, but even then, it hits the right balance without making you feel like you are watching a PG movie for tweens.

One particular scene that stood out in the movie was when Sun persuades Jing to go swimming with him. Debut actress Zhou shines here, putting on such a convincing performance that one can almost feel the painful embarrassment and discomfort that Jing faces in having to strip in front of Sun, and the heightened sexual tension simmering between the two young lovers.

Zhang is well renowned for casting high-profile A-list actors in his films, namely frequent collaborator Gong Li, as well as Zhang Ziyi, Chow Yun Fatt, Andy Lau, and Jet Li, but not this time. Instead, he deliberately sought out young unknowns to play the roles of Jing and Sun- both actors were talent spotted from their respective art schools.

Despite how the film takes place in a monumentally historic time for China, Zhang manages to resist and steer clear of any complicated plot entanglement with the Cultural Revolution, focusing on the love story between Jing and Sun instead.

It’s safe to say that Under A Hawthorn Tree is a world of difference from the previous works of director Zhang, who is renowned for his usage of rich, bold colours as depicted in big-budget period movies like Hero, Raise the Red Lantern and even the opening/closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which he directed.

Instead, the entire movie plays out in a simple, natural lighting, well befitting the nature of the storyline and setting.

So the question you’ve all been waiting for: Is there a sex scene?

After all, Zhang has never shied away from tackling sex in his previous works, even going as far as to bring in an incestuous relationship in Curse Of The Golden Flower. Well, we’re not going to give anything away, but here’s a tip: There is a bed scene.

Simply shot and topped off with a tender love story, Under The Hawthorn Tree is a great change of pace for Zhang.

After all, one would get tired of filming big budget period epics, even if you’re Zhang Yimou.

Movie: Under The Hawthorn Tree
Rating:> ★★★★✩

Opens: 10 Feb 2011
Duration: 114 mins
Language: Mandarin
Genre: Romance

Director: Zhang Yimou
Cast: Zhou Dongyu, Shawn Dou