“As long as you don’t give up, it’s never too late to follow your dream” according to a sympathetic teacher perhaps incongruously advising a conflicted student who might in one sense be facing an ending but also has his whole life in front of him. Apparently inspired by a song from 2004, Gardenia in Blossom, Forever Young (栀子花开, Zhīzihuā Kāi) ironically concerns itself with the lives of a collection of youngsters facing their first roadblock as they approach the end of university while their dreams seem further away than ever.
Popular girl Yanxi (Zhang Huiwen) has her heart set on joining the Paris Opera Ballet along with her three roommates with whom she dances the Dance of the Four Swans. Yanxi’s boyfriend Xunuo (Li Yifeng), meanwhile, dreams of making it as a rockstar with his three bandmates. The combined group of friends, cheerful and excited about celebrating Yanxi’s upcoming 21st birthday, are upbeat about the future and looking forward to their graduation concert “Dream Night” at which they hope to catch the eye of influential people. When tragedy strikes however and it seems the girls will not be able to perform, Xunuo makes a surprising decision, roping his bandmates in to take their place and dance the Dance of the Four Swans in their stead.
Mirrors of each other, Yanxi and Xunuo can each be blinkered and self-centred. Yanxi takes it for granted that the group all want the same thing and are determined to go to Paris with her but apparently hasn’t noticed that her friends have their own problems and at least one may not be able to afford to go abroad because she’s already subsidising her brother’s education. Stubborn and unsympathetic, Yanxi later comes to regret having been so unforgiving as she faces the prospect of continuing alone only to encounter yet another setback. Xunuo meanwhile does something similar in convincing his bandmates to join him in the Four Swans project at the expense of their own dream in taking time away from their band practice while forcing them to don tutus and possibly make fools of themselves in front of all their friends.
Asked why she chose ballet, Yanxi replies that standing on tiptoes allowed her to see further, but now she worries she’s been suffering with a particular kind of myopia in having seen nothing at all while still clinging on to a vain hope for her Paris dream. The idealised relationship between the pair is marred only by Xunuo’s petulant decision not to get on the bus with everyone else after their night out when Yanxi reminded him she was bound overseas, and her later despondency as they’re temporarily forced apart by Xunuo’s secret plan even while his strange rivalry with a former friend with whom he wrote a plaintive love song takes on an overtly homoerotic quality.
Nevertheless, there’s something of an incongruity in such young people being constantly reminded that as long as you don’t give up there’s always time to achieve your dreams though it’s true enough that they’re each at a crisis point, about to lose the student safety net and faced with the choice of whether to keep trying to make it or go for the “safe” option of heading into the workforce. Xunuo declares that he just wants “all the sadness and troubles to go away”, only for his teacher to point out that if you’ve nothing to overcome then you’ll never grow. The presence of tragedy never seems to touch them as deeply as one would think, though at least through Xunuo’s vicarious dancing dream the guys are able to renew their friendships, acknowledging their own strengths and weaknesses as they work together in memory of absent friends and perhaps their own fading youth.
A strangely cheerful campus drama despite its darkness and the foreboding of the title, Forever Young allows its heroes to be just that as they promise themselves that as long as they refuse to give up it’s never too late for their dreams to come true while also subtly hinting at a new ideal of masculinity in the infinitely sensitive Xunuo who is selfless and kind and just wants everyone to be happy. An overly idealised conclusion perhaps as the youngsters bid goodbye to their adolescent lives for the stormy seas of adulthood, but also a reassuring one as they emerge from their respective traumas and hardships with renewed hope for the future.
Original trailer (English subtitles)