The film has become a major success at the Chinese box office, grossing over US$118 million with a US$5 million budget.
Zheng Wei starts her college freshman year as a civil engineer major to be in the same city as her childhood playmate, Lin Jing, whom she is determined to marry one day. When Wei visits Jing at his college dormitory however, Jing's roommate tells her Jing left for America. Unable to understand why Jing abruptly left without saying goodbye, Wei is left confused and heartbroken.
Back in her college dormitory, Wei becomes close friends with her three roommates, Ruan Guan, the most beautiful and popular girl in the class; Li Weijuan, a practical and realistic girl who comes from a poor town but determined to marry well; and Zhu Xiaobei, a tomboy. The four girls talk about their goals in life, and all cheer to Ruan Guan's ambition—to have a youth that never fades away.
Wei is befriended by Lao Zhang and his roommate Xu Kaiyang, architecture majors, during the college clubs and activities fair. Kaiyang came from a well-to-do family and starts a romantic pursuit for Wei, but Wei only regards him as a friend. One evening Wei goes to Lao Zhang and Kaiyang's dorm room to borrow their DVDs. Wei is amazed and disgusted by the messy condition of the male dormroom, except one bed and corner that is uncannily neat and clean. Lao Zhang explains that this spot belongs to their disciplined and hardworking roommate, Chen Xiaozheng. Laozhang exits for a moment to find his DVDs, leaving Wei alone in the room. Wei sees a near finished building model on the table and curiously starts fumbling with the parts. At this moment Xiaozheng comes back and angrily yells out, "What are you doing?" Startled and swinging around to see yelled, Wei knocks the model off the table. Xiaozheng manages to save his model by shoving Wei out of the way, who falls in a mess to the floor. Enraged in humiliation, Wei angrily demands an apology from Xiaozheng, but Xiaozheng coolly replies that he has nothing to apologize for and that it was her fault for touching his model. From this moment, Wei becomes determined to repeatedly humiliate and bring trouble to Xiaozheng until she gets the apology she believes she deserves. Through her attempts Wei comes to the startling realization that in fact, she likes Xiaozheng. From Lao Zhang and Weijuan, Wei learns that Xiaozheng comes from a poor family and was raised by a strict mother, hence his aloof and disciplined personality. Wei declares her interest in Xiaozheng, then openly, relentlessly, and shamelessly stalks Xiaozheng to get his attention, much to his annoyance. Eventually, Xiaozheng, impressed by her enthusiasm, determination, and spirit finds that he has come to like Wei too, and the two start going together.
During the rest of their college life and relationship, Xiaozheng and Wei find that they have starkly contrasting personalities. Although he appreciates Wei's fiery enthusiastic personality, Xiaozheng also reprimands Wei at times for her laid-back and undisciplined attitude towards her coursework. Wei asks Xiaozheng why he is always so serious about everything, to which Xiaozheng replies, "I don't know what your attitude towards your life is, but my life is like a building that can only be built once, so I cannot afford any margin of error, not even a centimeter's width." Due to his family's modest financial circumstances, Xiaozheng feels that he needs to do anything and everything he can to ensure the best possible professional future for himself.
Eventually graduation ccomes upon Wei and Xiaozheng. At the on-campus recruitment and interview fair, Wei hopes she and Xiaozheng can find work at the same institute thus remain together. Unbeknownst to Wei, Xiaozheng has applied to and obtained a graduate fellowship to study architecture in America. When Wei finally learns of his plan, she confronts Xiaozheng to ask why she was the last one to know. Xiaozheng attempts to explain with difficulty that he could not tell her because he was afraid of hurting her and reiterates that he can not make any mistake in his life, he then apologizes, saying that he had to make this choice of leaving her to make a better future for himself.
A few years into the future, Wei has now become a mature professional who excels in her work, much different from her bygone youthful days. One day she suddenly encounters Lin Jing. Jing explains that he left abruptly because he learned his father was having an affair with Wei's mother, so he could not face Wei. He never went to America, but avoided contact with her except for once when he went to look for her, but found her with Xiaozheng. Now however, he wants to come back and rekindle their friendship and, if possible, romance. At this time, Xiaozheng also returns from America, now as a renowned and accomplished architect. Though he has everything professionally that he was determined to get, Xiaozheng finds the life that he has gained empty and crippled. He deeply regrets letting go of Wei, seeing it as the only time he walked with his back straight, and also wants to rekindle their relationship. However, Wei on their first meeting firmly rejects Xiaocheng. Not long afterward, Ruan Guan is killed in a car accident when trying to meet her university boyfriend for one last time before she getting married to another man. Wei, in grief, asks Lin Jing to marry her. However, she later calls it off when Lin Jing tells Wei about another girl that loved him during their time apart. Afterwards, Xiaocheng and Wei meet once more at the aquarium to reminisce. It is during this final scene when Xiaozheng asks Wei, "Can I start over, and love you again?" to which Wei replies, "Xiaozheng, we spent our youth together, we owe each other nothing... youth is something you can only relive in memory."Yang Zishan as Zheng Wei
Mark Chao as Chen Xiaozheng
Han Geng as Lin Jing
Jiang Shuying as Ruan Guan
Bao Bei'er as Zhang
Zheng Kai as Xu Kaiyang
Zhang Yao as Li Weijuan
Tong Liya as Shi Jie
Liu Yase as Zhu Xiaobei
Wang Jiajia as Zeng Shu
Huang Ming as Zhao Shiyong
Pan Hong as Chen's mother
Yang Lan as Yang Lan
Han Hong as DJ Zi Juan
Wang Sen as Wang Yaming
Xin Yiwu, author of the novel, has mentioned that Zhao Wei was actually her choice to play the lead character of "Zheng Wei". However, Zhao declined the offer, and opted to direct the film.
Besides Mark Chao and Han Geng, a majority of the cast are newcomers, including Yang Zishan, who played the story's protagonist Zheng Wei. Zhao stated, "They're very green and new. Sometimes they even lack common sense. But I like working with them because they're down-to-earth...What they lack in experience, they replace with enthusiasm."
For this film, Zhao Wei intended to take the story in a panorama view to the life of college students in the 1990s, "not just a love triangle", "I'd like to devote this film to everyone out there who had a similar youth... It’s a memory shared by those who were born on the Chinese Mainland between the 1970s and early 80s." Zhao also bought the rights to Suede's song for the film.
Production on the film started from March 3 and ended on June 22, 2012.Theme song: "To Youth" (致青春)Composer: Dou Peng
Lyricist: Li Qiang
Performer: Faye Wong
After the premiere of the film in Beijing, it has gained favorable reviews from critics and audience, and has been dubbed a "mature directorial debut".
It has also gained positive reviews from English-language critics. Dereke Elley of Film Business Asia gave the film a 7 out of 10, describes the film as "an impressive directorial debut" and praised the film's "powerhouse first 90 minutes" as "that draw an involving portrait of love, friendship, ambition and broken dreams among a group of university students..." However, Elley criticized the last portion of the film, and states "as the film abruptly flashes forward several years to pick up the characters in the big city, all the dramatic credit accumulated to that point is squandered by a final 40 minutes that seem rushed and fabricated, with none of the earlier dramatic traction." Elley summoned up "As a two-part movie running some three hours, So Young could have been a truly epic portrait of youthful emotional errors and their later consequences. As it stands, it's a remarkable directorial debut by Zhao that's well acted by its ensemble cast but is more of an ambitious, great-looking torso than a single movie." Elley also states "One can only hope that one day an extended Director's Cut of the film will eventually emerge on ancillary."
Maggie Lee of Variety described the film as an "accomplished directing debut" and "a lyrical ode to youth at its most fearless and foolhardy." Elizabeth Kerr of The Hollywood Reporter wrote "Anchored by an engaging performance by Yang Zishan in her first lead role, Zhao's film proves the actress turned director adept with images and actors." "The film’s first 90 minutes make for a complete enough film that the bloated, soapy final 40 become a distraction from Zhao and Li’s careful character construction earlier on. It’s been rumored that Zhao’s original cut clocked in at three hours, and so in that light the rushed, half-baked feel of the last act becomes clear. But even with more time the “adult” segment of the film feels out of place, tonally and stylistically. Thankfully Zhao makes the most of her cast, who carry the film farther than it has a right to go." Tay Huizhen of MovieXclusive (Singapore) gave the film a rating of 4.5/5.
Top Ten Lists10th - Lie Fu, Asia Weekly
10th - Popular Cinema Magazine
10th - Mainland/Taiwan/Hong Kong Film Poll (Orgnized by Taiwan Film Board and China Film Critics Society)
10th - Hong Kong Film Critics Association
8th - Taiwan Film Critics Society
Mainland Film of the Year - Southern Weekly
In mainland China, the film grossed 45 million yuan in the opening-day, and broke the opening-day box office record for a non-3D Chinese language film. The film also surpassed Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons in advanced sales according to online box office tabulation. The film went on to gross 141 million yuan in its opening weekend, and Zhao became the first Chinese female director to have a first feature film to gross over the 100 million yuan mark. Through May 5, its cume was $76.72M. In an interview, Zhao Wei said "I’m given box office figures every other day. I feel OK. I am very satisfied with what we’ve taken. You can’t be too greedy."