Wednesday, 10 February 2010


When their mother takes ill, young siblings Ting-Ting and Tung-Tung are forced to move in with their grandparents who live in the country. As with every child, the pair spends the beginning of their summer sojourn pining for mum and dad, particularly as they both struggle to befriend the neighbourhood kids. Grandpa is a stoical character who is best known as the town doctor, but also takes great pleasure in teaching Ting-Ting and Tung-Tung occasionally, and the kids grow close to him over time. Through investigating this new landscape, they also learn about aspects of life completely alien to them, particularly the concept of death which has a particular poignancy when they reflect on their poorly mother back at home.

The film is completely carried by its two leads Wang Chi-Kwang and Sun Cheeng-Lee, who couldn’t be more adorable. Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien focuses most of his attention on the children’s convincing exploration of their environment, but balances the sentimentality with realism, as the adults openly discuss grave matters in front of the children. This hard-hitting sincerity is the film’s virtue, and it never verges on preciousness or sentimentality. The cinematography is beautiful - from the sun-baked train station steps to the crowded dinner table, Hou absorbs every facet of the countryside, much like his young protagonists. It is sad to think that such a gentle, sincere film is unlikely to ever be made in Britain, but A Summer At Grandpa’s is universal enough to fulfil a sense of childhood nostalgia.

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