You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘End of Summer’

A conventional childhood nostalgia drama that nonetheless showcases its tyro helmer’s competence.

Zhou Quan
Rong Zishan, Ku Pao-ming, Zhang Songwen

1 hour 42 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5644394/

A young boy and his elderly neighbor strike up a friendship in “End of Summer,” a well-crafted but milk-and-water debut by Chinese director Zhou Quan. Set during the 1998 World Cup, the film is flushed with quaint memorabilia like Ronaldo shirts, traditional courtyards and other rose-tinted recreations of small-town life. Compared with the trenchant “Stonehead,” another soccer-themed Chinese children’s film, or the similarly nostalgic but more artsy “Summer Is Gone,” Huang Yimei’s predictable screenplay soft-pedals its social and emotional elements, making “Summer” nothing more than a pleasant diversion. As such, the film should slot easily into family channels on domestic TV or streaming platforms (it has been acquired by Chinese giant Tencent Penguin), but it won’t score with critics or programmers on the hunt for auteur voices.

Gu Xiaoyang (Rong Zishan), who attends a provincial elementary school in Shaoxing, a city near Shanghai, has the misfortune of being a teacher’s son. Xiaoyang loves soccer, but like many Chinese parents, dad Jianhua (Zhang Songwen) believes sports are a distraction from homework and forbids him from playing. The boy finds an ally in neighbor Grandpa Cheng (Ku Pao-ming), a soccer fanatic who agrees to coach him so he can qualify for the school team.

By setting the interaction of the boy and the grumpy old man in the shared courtyard of their ancient mansion-turned-collective residence, director Zhou evokes an era when people lived in close quarters and were more congenial and unguarded towards each other. He also implicitly mourns the fading of this communal spirit through news of government enforced “urban renewal” as well as market forces that make residents like Xiaoyang’s mom Huifang (Tan Zhuo) long to move into modern condos.

Despite their age gap, Xiaoyang and Grandpa both have honest, endearingly tactless personalities that save their rapport from feeling corny. The older character’s immersion in the kid’s interests not only throws into relief his tiger parents’ conventional expectations in education, but also acts as a buffer against adult problems stewing at home.

Huifang is a high-flying Yue opera performer who neglects her family to concentrate on rehearsals. Then Dad is tipped by the principal that he’s a likely candidate to become the next vice-principal. A newly inflated ego, coupled with old wounds of being over-shadowed by his wife, emboldens him to act on a crush on Miss Shen (Dong Qing), the new English teacher.

The film treats Jianhua’s transgressive desires with gentle amusement, his clumsy overtures making him less a sexual predator than a self-satisfied moralist whose mid-life crisis caught him by surprise. Although he also conveys Shen’s discomfort about the unwanted attentions of a senior who has power over her career, Zhou almost romanticizes that prim era as an age of innocence — as in a scene at a dance hall where couples sway furtively to the cloying songs of Taiwanese crooner Teresa Teng. The ambience and activity are both laughably tame to modern viewers and tantalizingly risqué to the characters.

In addition to mapping Xiaoyang’s coming of age amid his parents’ marital discord, the film captures the young protagonist’s first sense of heartache, as he learns that bonds can be as easily made as broken, even ones forged through mutual loneliness. As it happens, Grandpa has been grappling with a painful loss, amid which Xiaoyang is a source of comfort. The script never spells out, but provides plenty of hints about the old man’s past. His struggle to come to terms with fate (calibrated by Taiwanese veteran Ku with a kind of grumpy gusto), sounds a bittersweet note that helps dilute the soapy tone of the family melodrama.

Contrary to the many youngsters found in films like “Stonehead,” child characters (other than Rong) are confined to the periphery of this story. Rong, who appeared in Jia Zhangke’s “Mountains May Depart” is cute in a doll-like way, which fits right into the idyllic time vacuum that Zhou painstakingly creates. Having said that, the film is obviously made with a lot of care, suggesting what the tyro helmer is capable of in future, preferably more commercial projects.

The modest budget is deftly disguised by the ace production team, especially Michael Solidum, who captures the “Jiangnan” region’s landmark canals, stone bridges and traditional tea houses with a lush radiance. Hou Hsiao-hsien and Jia Zhangke’s preferred composer Lim Giong’s ethereal score wafts lightly throughout without overwhelming the drama. The resulting image is picturesque but also a bit precious.

Film Review: 'End of Summer'

Reviewed online, Vancouver, Sept. 27, 2017. (Also in Toronto Film Festival.) Running time: 102 MIN. (Original title: "Xi Xiao He De Xia Tian")

Production: (China) A Tencent Penguin (Shanghai) Co., Ethan Culture Development, Each Other Films presentation of an Each Other Films production. (International sales: Be For Films, Brussels). Producer: Jacqueline Liu. Executive producers: Sun Zhonghuai, Zhou Yang, Wang Yongliang, Chang Bin, Zhou Yongli. Director: Zhou Quan. Screenplay: Huang Yimei. Camera (color, HD): Michael Solidum. Editor: Kong Jinlei. Music: Lim Giong.

With: Rong Zishan, Ku Pao-ming, Zhang Songwen, Tan Zhuo, Dong Qing, Zhang Liping. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Avengers: Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame' First Reactions: 'Most Emotional, Most Epic MCU Film'

    The end is finally here. “Avengers: Endgame” had its world premiere Monday night at the Los Angeles Convention Center and reactions on social media from fans, journalists and critics are already pouring in. The reaction has so far been almost universally positive, with several commentors warning fans of the movie’s emotional elements. Brandon Davis wrote [...]

  • Josh Brolin, Kathryn Boyd. Josh Brolin,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Josh Brolin: Thanos' Butt Is a 'Beautiful, Purple Peach'

    On the eve of “Avengers: Endgame’s” world premiere, everyone’s thoughts have turned to the one crucial detail that could be the difference between life or death for the Avengers: Does Thanos have a butt? “I don’t know what that whole thing is about! I really don’t!” Josh Brolin, who plays Thanos, told Variety‘s Marc Malkin [...]

  • Tessa Thompson'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Tessa Thompson Says Valkyrie Would Spoon Captain Marvel, Thor

    Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and upcoming “Avengers: Endgame,” had no problem addressing speculation about the character’s sexuality at the “Endgame” red carpet premiere Monday. The “Sorry to Bother You” actress explained that she played her Marvel character as bisexual. “In the canon, [Valkyrie] is bisexual. You see her with [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    Writers Guild Says Over 7,000 Members Have Fired Agents

    Over 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America have fired their talent agents, the Hollywood union said on Monday. As promised, the guild delivered a first round of termination letters to agents in a show of support for the WGA’s full-on war with the Association of Talent Agents. “Today the Guild delivered a first [...]


    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content