In A Summer at Grandpa’s, Hou already seems more self-aware than in Boys from Fengkuei. Boys is based mostly on his own experiences. Now this story of a young boy and younger sister’s memorable summer at their grandfather's house/clinic in rural Taiwan is based on Chu Tien-wen’s childhood memories of a summer in exactly the same location. The film serves as further evidence of Chu’s impact on Hou. One Taiwanese scholar notes that Chiu’s narration is somewhat ‘disorderly’ since it it ‘essay-like’, with unexpected complications, obstacles and difficulties. ‘Essay-like’ seems a particularly apt description here: the structure of A Summer at Grandpa’s overall seems almost like a series of memorable incidents that fill a ‘What I Did Last Summer’ essay on the first day of a composition class. Only there is nothing child-like about this cinematic ‘essay’ no matter how vividly it captures the feelings of childhood. Rather, it reflects the adult transformations of such memories by expert and talented hands, showing not childhood as it ‘really is’, but how it lingers in one’s memories as an adult, colored by the subtle nuances of time and experience.
James Udden in ‘No Man an Island: The Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien’
“I hardly need to point out how often Hou Hsiao-hsien has pointed his camera at railways, from Green, Green Grass of Home (1983), which begins with the arrival of a train and ends with a train’s departure, to Café Lumière (Kôhî jikô, 2003), which concludes with the image of train after train crossing over steel bridges. The motion of the passing trains is taken from many angles – sometimes the camera is inside the train, sometimes it is next to the tracks, sometimes it is on the platform – and each image imparts a distinct rhythm to that particular film.
But, as in the introduction to Dust in the Wind (1986) or the scene in A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984) of the train carrying a brother and sister to the village where their grandfather lives, Hou does more than just insert the images of moving vehicles into his films. He also directs his lens at a wide range of railway-related scenes, including the platforms and ticket gates at the railway stations that are the scenes for meetings and partings, the distinctive round clocks of the stations, the operation of signals as trains approach, the rising and falling of crossing gates and, in the short The Sandwich Man (1983), the carefree play of children in a railway switchyard.”
From ‘Café Lumière’ by Shigehiko Hasumi
“As Bazin once said of Rossellini, Hou’s practice offers us ‘documentary reality plus something else.’ For Hou, this ‘something else’ is a knack for merging the ontological tradition of filmmaking with memory work. On the one hand, he lets actions unfold within an unbroken frame, capturing time as it evaporates, the instant as it recedes into the past. And yet, on the other hand, Hou seeks to register the interval within which time avails itself to the workings of nostalgia and memory.”
Read Charles R. Warner's text on Hou Hsiao-hsien here