Summer Palace (film)

Summer Palace (film)

Infobox Chinese Film
name = Summer Palace

image_size =
caption = Promotional Poster for "Summer Palace"
director = Lou Ye
producer = Sylvain Bursztejn
Fang Li
Nai An
writer = Lou Ye
Feng Mei
Ma Yingli
starring = Hao Lei
Guo Xiaodong
music = Peyman Yazdanian
cinematography = Hua Qing
editing = Lou Ye
Zeng Jian
distributor = United States:
Palm Pictures
Océan Films
released = Cannes Film Festival:
April 18, 2006
United States:
January 18, 2008
runtime = 140 min.
language = Mandarin
budget =
amg_id = 1:348262
imdb_id = 0794374
jianti = 颐和园
fanti = 頤和園
pinyin = Yíhé Yuán

"Summer Palace" (zh-tsp|t=頤和園|s=颐和园|p=Yíhé Yuán), is a 2006 film and the fourth feature film by director Lou Ye. The film was a Chinese-French collaboration produced by Dream Factory, Laurel Films, Fantasy Pictures and Sylvain Bursztejn's Rosem Films. It was made in association with France's Ministere de la Culture & de la Communication, Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres and Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC).

The film deals with young student played by Hao Lei who leaves her small hometown to study at Peking University. There she meets a fellow student and begins an intense romantic relationship in the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The film also follows the eventual disillusionment of these young idealists after the crackdown, as the years progress through the 1990s and into the 2000s. The film is named after the Summer Palace located in Beijing.

"Summer Palace"'s explicit sex scenes and political undertones made the film a touchstone for controversy in China, leading both the director, Lou Ye, and his producers into conflict with China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT). After screening "Summer Palace" in the 2006 Cannes Film Festival without government approval, the film was de facto banned in Mainland China, and its filmmakers officially censured.


Spanning several cities and over a decade, "Summer Palace" tells the story of Yu Hong (played by Hao Lei), a young woman from the border-city of Tumen, who is accepted to the fictional Beiqing University, a name that evokes either the Peking University ("Beida") or the Tsinghua University ("Qinghua"). While in school, Yu Hong meets Li Ti, her best friend (played by Hu Lingling), and Zhou Wei, her college boyfriend and the love of her life (played by Guo Xiaodong). The film is divided into two parts. The first begins in the late 1980s (subtitles inform the audience of the place and year at various points in the film), as Yu Hong enters the university. Lonely and isolated despite the cramped living conditions, Yu Hong eventually befriends another student, Li Ti, who introduces her to her boyfriend Ruo Gu (played by Zhang Xianmin), and Ruo Gu's friend Zhou Wei. Yu Hong and Zhou Wei embark upon a passionate but volatile love affair just as political forces are moving towards Tiananmen Square.

Two events then bring the first half of the film to a close: First, Zhou Wei, incensed at the jealousy and emotional instability of his girlfriend, begins to have an affair with Li Ti; and second, the crackdown occurs on the students on Tiananmen Square and on the campus of Beida. During all of this, Yu Hong's old boyfriend Xiao Jun (played by Cui Jin) from Tumen arrives and the two of them leave, Yu Hong deciding that she will drop out from the university.

The film then fast forwards several years, as Lou Ye intersperses the travels of his three main characters with news footage of the end of the Cold War, and the 1997 Hong Kong handover. Yu Hong has left Tumen again, first for Shenzhen, and then for the central China city of Wuhan, while Li Ti and Ru Guo have moved to Berlin. Yu Hong is unable to forget Zhou Wei, and has empty affairs with a married man and a kind but quiet mailroom worker. The film follows her disaffection with society and her use of sex as a substitute for contentment. Eventually discovering that she is pregnant, Yu Hong gets an abortion and moves to Chongqing where she marries.

Li Ti, Ruo Gu, and Zhou Wei, meanwhile, live a quiet life as ex-patriates in Berlin. While still Li Ti and Zhou Wei still occasionally make love, the former quietly realizes that the latter does not love her. Though the three friends appear happy, Li Ti suddenly commits suicide, compelling Zhou Wei to return home to China where he finds a job also in Chongqing. There he connects with former classmates who in turn point him to Yu Hong's email address.

After more than ten years, Zhou Wei and Yu Hong at last reunite in the resort city of Beidaihe. While they embrace, they ask each other, "Now what?" When Yu Hong leaves, ostensibly to buy drinks, Zhou Wei understands that they can never be together and leaves as well.


*Hao Lei as Yu Hong - the film's heroine, a young student at the fictional Beiqing University from the small town of Tumen, Jilin on the North Korean-Chinese border. Yu Hong is a willful young woman who desires to live life more intensely. Her love affair with the character of Zhou Wei serves as the basis of the film.
*Guo Xiaodong as Zhou Wei - Yu Hong's love interest, another student at the same university. Something of an intellectual, Zhou Wei is both deeply in love with Yu Hong and prone to infidelity. When the Tiananmen protests arrive, he like his fellow students join in the movement.
*Hu Lingling as Li Ti - Yu Hong's best friend and eventual rival. Li Ti, an English-language major at the same university, is the first to befriend the sullen, quiet Yu Hong. Though considered a cynic, she harbors a romantic side as well.
*Zhang Xianmin as Ruo Gu - Li Ti's boyfriend, a student studying abroad in Berlin.
*Cui Lin as Xiao Jun - Yu Hong's high school boyfriend from Tumen.
*Bai Xueyun as Wang Bo - a lover of Yu Hong's in Wuhan.



"Summer Palace" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2006, and was released theatrically in France a year later on April 18, 2007 by Océan Films, under the title "Une Jeunesse Chinoise" (in English, "A Chinese Youth").cite web|url=|title=Une Jeunesse Chinoise (Summer Palace)|accessdate=2008-01-20|publisher=Océan Films] The film received its American debut in the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 10, 2006, and a limited theatrical release beginning on January 18, 2008 through distributor Palm Pictures.


"Summer Palace" was released on Region 2 DVD in France on January 28, 2008. The single disc edition includes the film in its original Mandarin with French subtitles, along with special features such as a making-of documentary, a featurette on censorship, Lou Ye's film notes, and cast and crew biographies.

A Region 1 DVD was released in the United States on March 11, 2008 by Palm Pictures. [cite web|url=|title= Summer Palace (2008) - DVD/Video| publisher= Yahoo Movies |accessdate=2008-01-25]


"Summer Palace" was screened at several international film festivals, most notably Cannes, where it was the only Asian film in competition. [cite web|url=|title = 'Palace' producers challenge Beijing censors|author =Landreth, Jonathon |publisher = "The Hollywood Reporter"|date =2006-04-22|accessdate=2008-01-20] However, the Palme d'Or eventually went to the Irish film, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley", directed by Ken Loach. Besides Cannes, "Summer Palace" was also screened at a handful of top-tier festivals including Toronto [cite web|url=|title = Toronto International Film Festival - Film Description| publisher = Toronto International Film Festival |accessdate =2008-01-20] and Mill Valley.cite web|url=|title = Summer Palace, Mill Valley Film Festival| publisher = Mill Valley Film Festival | accessdate =2008-01-20]

Critics were generally positive in reviews, citing the film's ambition and scope with the most common complaint being the film's excessive length at 140 minutes. Derek Elley of "Variety" claimed the film was "half an hour too long." [cite web | url =
title = Summer Palace| accessdate = 2007-08-13| author = Elley, Derek |date= 2006-05-18 | publisher = "Variety"
] "The Daily Telegraph", meanwhile, also mentioned the "thirty minutes too long" complaint but stated that the film was nevertheless a "a raw and unsettling new work." [cite web | url =
title = Cannes 2006: love in Paris and hatred in Ireland| accessdate = 2007-08-13| author = Sandhu , Sukhdev |date= 2006-05-19 | publisher = "The Daily Telegraph"
] "The Guardian" also found the film "over-long and meandering," but also "stylish [and] atmospheric." [cite web | url =,,1779573,00.html
title = Give Pedro the prize| accessdate = 2007-08-13| author = Solomons, Jason |date= 2006-05-21| publisher = "The Guardian"

The "New York Times" gave a particularly glowing review for the film with film critic A. O. Scott writing that "... [despite] its 2-hour-20-minute length, 'Summer Palace' moves with the swiftness and syncopation of a pop song. Like Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s, Mr. Lou favors breathless tracking shots and snappy jump cuts, and like Mr. Godard’s, his camera is magnetized by female beauty."cite web|url=|title= Summer Palace - Movie -Review| author = Scott, A. O. | publisher = "New York Times"|date=2008-01-18|accessdate=2008-01-20]

The film was released with an "unrated" rating in the United States. [cite web|url=|title=Summer Palace (2008):Reviews|publisher=Metacritic|accessdate=2008-01-20] Several American film critics have described "Summer Palace" as one of the most sexually-explicit films in years, with plenty of sex scenes and male and female full-frontal nudity. [cite web|url=|title= Summer Palace movie review - Film - Time Out New York|publisher = "Time Out New York" |author = Rothkopf, Joshua | date = Issue 642: January 17-23| accessdate=2008-01-20] [cite web|url= |title = Epic Full of Love and Naked Truth |publisher = "New York Post" |author =Musetta, V. A. | date= 2008-01-18| accessdate=2008-01-20] [cite web|url=|title= EI>Reviews>Summer Palace (2007)|author = Gereban, Janos|publisher = Entertainment Insiders |date=2007-03-16|accessdate=2008-01-20] David Denby of "The New Yorker" noted that he never seen so much lovemaking in an "aboveground" film.cite web| url = |title = Moral Landscapes: "Still Life," "Summer Palace," and "Cassandra’s Dream"| author = Denby, David|publisher = "The New Yorker" | date = 2008-01-21| accessdate = 2008-01-20] However he also noted that these scenes are never pornographic—that is, never separated from emotion.

Ban and controversy

The film was in competition at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival but failed to garner any awards. Though "Summer Palace" was the only Asian film in competition for the Palme d'Or, Lou and his producers had not received approval from Chinese censors, thus instigating an official censure by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT).cite web | url = | title = China gives 'Palace' pair 5-year bans | accessdate = 2007-02-20 | author = Variety Staff |date= 2006-09-04 | publisher = "Variety"] Ultimately, both Lou and his producer, Nai An, were forbidden by the Chinese Government to make any new films for five years.

Besides the filmmakers, "Summer Palace" itself was de-facto banned when SARFT refused to grant a certificate to distribute in the Mainland, though Lou claimed the denial was due to "technical reasons" in that the film was not up to the official standards for picture and sound quality. [cite web | url =
title = 'Banned filmmaker' is a relative term| accessdate = 2007-04-29 | author = Jones, Arthur |date= 2007-02-08 | publisher = "Variety"

ee also

* "Lost in Beijing", director Li Yu's 2007 film, also produced by Fang Li's Laurel Films, which like "Summer Palace", was banned by Chinese authorities.
* Banned films, China
* Censorship in the People's Republic of China


External links

* [ Official site] from distributor Palm Pictures
* [ "Summer Palace"] at MonkeyPeaches

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