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Summer Palace

3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

From the director of Purple Butterfly and Suzhou River comes Lou Ye's sprawling epic Summer Palace . Yu Hong (Lei Hao) is a rebellious young woman from a small Chinese town transplanted to a politically charged Beijing University in the late 1980s. The country's social turmoil is witnessed through its disaffected youth, whose newfound sexuality and activism culminate in violent suppression. Spanning nearly 20 years of modern Chinese history, Summer Palace projects the country's struggle for definition through the eyes and heart of a young woman illequipped to handle it. While drifting between the arms of two men, her love fervent for both, Yu Hong's existential crisis mirrors that of her nation. Will the chaos of society lead her to its same tragic fate?


Summer Palace, a politically charged drama from director Lou Ye (Purple Butterfly, Suzhou River), telling the story of Chinese political upheaval through the eyes of protagonist Yu Hong (Lei Hao) who moves from her rural community to embrace life in Beijing. Spanning nearly 20 years, the film elucidates the mindset of the Chinese revolutionary youth during the 1980s and into the new millennium through its narration by Hong, who reads diary excerpts to set scenes. Though footage of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations spliced in among the dramatized imagery relegated Summer Palace to banned status by the Chinese government, the film feels tame compared to Western dramas. In it, Yu falls in love with Zhou Wei (Xiaodong Guo), who haunts her in later relationships once she leaves school. Strikingly romantic, Summer Palace is slow-paced but cinematically lovely, with long sequences illustrating dorm room life, dates, dinner parties, and Hong's intimate exchanges with girlfriends like Li Ti (Ling Hu). Dark indoor settings alternate with sunlit outdoor moments, to set a moody, reflective tone. As Hong matures emotionally and sexually, we meet other lovers like Xiao Jun (Lin Cui), but passion between her and Zhou Wei never weakens. To the film's credit, the love story doesn't flatten or oversimplify the complex historical plot that explains how innocent students could be considered threats to conservative political regimes. Though meandering, Summer Palace encapsulates an important moment in Chinese history and will especially enlighten viewers to the nuances of people struggling for freedom. --Trinie Dalton

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Bai Xueyun, Cui Lin, Duan Long, Hao Lei, Guo Xiaodong
  • Directors: Lou Ye
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Mandarin Chinese, German
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Palm Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: March 11, 2008
  • Run Time: 140 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012680A8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,029 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Summer Palace" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
"Because it is only when we make love that you understand that I'm gentle."

That's all the character development I need. This is an ambitious film about the stalled maturation of an idealistic but troubled young woman flanked by the Tiananmen Square protests, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China. The film spans a decade and a half from 1987 to 2003 so I guess the misery of Three Gorges Dam couldn't make the final cut. The direction is a little chaotic at times but it reflects the nature of the film and doesn't come off as too much of a liability. The soundtrack is impeccably chosen and the film is ultimately very sad. I was glued to this 140 minute masterpiece. Politics aside, and they are on the side, this is a remarkable film in its honest portrayal of failure, not of personal character necessarily, but of circumstance.

This is another film that got its director and producer banned for five years from making films in China. Maybe it's the full-frontal nudity or the sheer quantity of sex scenes but I don't see the need for hubbub. The film is about a woman's self-reflection on why she finds comfort in the arms of different men. We see her naked inside and out. She is afraid to love out of fear, fear of something she hasn't yet experienced, but isn't that the scariest kind of fear?

There are a number of things wrong with the film, perhaps, but very little could be done to improve it. Great films succeed in spite of their weaknesses. I'm not a fan of off camera narration but it works for me here. It seems additional rather than necessary. There is a maturity to the woman's voice as she narrates with entries from her diary that compliments, does not seem at odds with, the can't-quite-grow-up activities of the woman on screen.
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Format: DVD
In the late 1980's, an inexperienced young woman named Yu Hong leaves her hometown and boyfriend in the provinces to attend Beijing University. Almost immediately, she falls into a passionate love/hate relationship with a fellow student at the school. This torrid affair plays out partly against the backdrop of the student protests and subsequent massacre that occurred in Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. (The movie also takes place briefly in Germany, the other part of the world where significant social change was occurring in 1989).

"Summer Palace" plays almost like the autopsy of a romantic obsession, attempting to get at the root of why we love in the way that we do. A novice at true love, Yu Hong understands neither her undying passion for Zhou Wei nor her seemingly incessant need to keep sabotaging their relationship. The closest she can come to grasping this paradox is when she says to Zhou Wei: "I want to break up...because I can't leave you." Love is seen almost as a form of mental illness in this film - as a debilitating, all-consuming condition that one is powerless to control or "cure" but which, if left unchecked, can become the single dominant force in a person's life (we rarely see Yu Hong studying, let alone going to class). One can attempt to fill the void with other loves, but the heart always comes back to the same place.

"Summer Palace" is long and occasionally repetitious and the political aspects aren`t as effectively integrated into the story as they perhaps might have been, but the movie is beautifully acted by Lei Hao and Xiaodong Guo, among others, and features incisive and sensitive direction by Ye Lou (who, along with Feng Mei and Ma Yingli, co-authored the screenplay).
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2 Comments 19 of 22 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: DVD
When I decided to see this film, I thought I will be watching a movie about the Tiananmen Square student revolt in 1989 China. These students demonstrations have echoed all over the world and reflecting on it 20 years later seemed to give a viewer a second chance on understanding student revolutions. Personally, I wanted to understand if there was any similarity in Chinese student uprising compared to the student uprising in 1960s Eastern Europe. But once I started watching the movie, I have realized that this is a deeply personal reflection of a young provincial girl, on her own in a big city (Beijing), first generation in her family to study in college. She is unable to handle emotional whirlwind of sexual awakening she experiences with one of her colleagues and that experience is defining the rest of her life in terms of her education, profession, personal disappointments and emotional failures. Her small circle of friends is part of the uprisings and the outcome of it: personal, political and emotional stay with all of them for the rest of their lives.

For anyone who has ever thought of sex as a good passing time, this film is a reminder that sex can also scar a parson forever. It is also a film that reflects on the fact that all revolutions, no matter how big or small are spontaneous and held by the masses no matter how innocent they are. Chinese governement was ready to supress students by using all means necessary and it was a lesson for all because in the last 20 years one cannot say we have heard of any other uprising there since. Although film feels like dragging at times, and some of the sex scenes are unnecessary it is a haunting story about time and a place for one of a kind love that cannot be recaptured ever again. It is kind of love that leave everyone involved damaged (or dead) forever.
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