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A heartwarming goal

By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-09 06:47

A scene from the award-winning film Football on the Roof: A joyful moment shared among the young characters. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Fei tells China Daily that he has been fascinated with soccer since childhood, and the memory was revived when he saw grandparents accompanying their grandchildren to soccer games in Yunnan.

During his search for inspiration, he passed Bingzhongluo, a village nestled in the northern end of the Nujiang River Canyon, where he met a 10-year-old girl with her younger siblings and their yellow-furred puppy.

The young girl enthusiastically invited the director to her home, showed him around, and used a long wooden stick to pick fresh lemons off a tree as a treat.

"When I was leaving, she asked, 'can you please send me some photos?' I initially thought she wanted the photos I had taken, so I said, 'no problem.' However, she shook her head and clarified her request. 'I've never left the mountains. The farthest I have ever been to is the opposite bank of the river. I hope you can send me some photos of the outside world'," Fei says.

The director was deeply moved when he realized that the girl, who had been left in the care of a grandfather who's constantly busy with rural chores, longed to feel more connected to her parents working in a distant city.

She became the prototype for his female protagonist in the movie. Despite auditioning child actors in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, Fei found they lacked the wildness in the eyes of country kids.

Traveling to many areas, from the cities of Lijiang and Kaiyuan, to the Chuxiong Yi autonomous prefecture, the crew auditioned around 10,000 students in 203 schools before selecting Tang Liangfeng and Tan Xinyu, then both 12, to play the protagonist and her elder sister.

Over the following months, Fei found himself in a role resembling that of a head teacher, using candies to encourage the children, who had only had two months' training before the shoot, to follow orders, and redesigning the schedule to ensure they wouldn't work too late into the night.

While most of the children were cast for their sports abilities, Shi Junxian, who plays the coach, secured the role in an unconventional manner. Shi, who juggles jobs from bath center attendant to barber, unexpectedly received a call from a property agent during his audition.

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