Monday, September 25, 2017

2017 Blind Spot Series: A Brighter Summer Day

Directed by Edward Yang and screenplay by Yang, Hung Hung, Lai Ming-Tang, and Alex Yang, A Brighter Summer Day is the story of a boy living in 1960 Taiwan as he becomes infatuated with street gang violence, rock n’ roll, romance, and other things during a tumultuous time in the country. The film is a look into a period of time in the course of four years where innocence is lost as well as the emergence of Western culture into Taiwan and how it would affect the youth of the country as it is partially based on a real-life incident that would haunt the country for many years. Starring Chang Chen, Lisa Yang, Chang Kuo-Chu, Elaine Jin, Wang Chuan, Chang Han, Chiang Hsiu-Chiung, Wong Chi-Zan, Lawrence Ko, Tan Chih-Kang, Chang Ming-Hsin, Jung Chun-Lung, Zhou Hui-Guo, Tang Hisao-Tsui, Lin Hong-Ming, Bosen Wang, Chen Hung-Yu, Hsu Ming, and Cho Ming. A Brighter Summer Day is a majestic and evocative film from Edward Yang.

Set more than a decade after the Chinese Civil War, the film revolves the life of a teenage boy in 1960 Taiwan as he finds himself in the middle of a gang war over social and political differences while dealing with his first crush and the chaos in his family life. The film takes place in the course of an entire school year for this young boy as he deals with not just growing pains but also this crisis in identity at a time when many young kids and teenagers are trying to find their place in the world in this island wondering if they’re going to return to China or just settle in Taiwan for good. For their adult-parents and relatives, it’s not just wondering if they’re going to return to China but also the future of their own children whether they would remain in Taiwan or return to China.

The film’s screenplay that is written by Edward and Alex Yang with Hung Hung and Lai Ming-Tang follows a lot of different storyline and characters throughout the film yet the main narrative revolves around Xiao S’ir (Chang Chen) who is a fourteen year old boy who was once a bright and hard-working student as he’s first seen in this scene set in 1959 where his father (Chang Kuo-Chu) is pleading with an administrator to keep him in school forcing S’ir to attend night school with other juvenile delinquents. In this school, S’ir would befriend several students who are part of two different street gangs that come from different social circles. The Little Park kids are boys whose families work for the government while the 217 gang are children of military personnel as it causes some tension with S’ir leaning toward the Little Park kids as his father works for the government as well. He also befriends a few kids from the 217 faction as well as have his first major crush on a young girl named Ming (Lisa Yang) who he sees at the school.

The storyline relating S’ir is the main narrative as there’s also little subplots as it relates to his older brother Lao Er (Chang Han) who has been going to pool halls at night where he owes money to local hoods forcing him to steal family heirlooms where his older sister (Wang Chuan) is suspicious as it’s already creating problems for a family that is starting to crack due to financial issues and Mr. Xiao’s problems with the way things are working within the government which would get him in trouble with the authorities. The script also shows the sense of tension between the two factions which would intensify when the Little Parks’ leader Honey (Lin Hong-Ming) return when he hears that the two factions are making a deal which only causes more trouble. It would change things in the second half from this story about gangs in Taipei to the troubling aftermath involving violence and S’ir dealing with growing pains as well as the chaos in his family when his father is away. It would lead him to explore ideas of love and sex but also things he is unprepared for as it leads to a very eerie third act.

Edward Yang’s direction is truly entrancing for not just some of the compositions he creates but also for the setting and emphasis on what is happening during this time in Taiwan. Shot on location various locations in and around Taipei and other parts of Taiwan, the film is presented with this tone of something that is changing where everyone is still attached to the old ideas of pre-civil war China but it’s become less important as the reality of what Taiwan would become is evident. Yang would use a lot of wide shots to play into these rural locations as well as the different places these characters would go to such as an ice cream parlor or the home of a few posh kids who also attend the school that S’ir goes to. Yang would use some crane shots for a few of the wide shots while he would maintain an air of intimacy with his approach to close-ups and medium shots.

Yang’s direction also have these brief but intense moments of violence such as a gang attack during the second act where it’s more about the element of surprise and the intensity of the violence with S’ir watching very closely. It’s a moment that would play into his growth as a person where he is dealing with so much at a young age while still wanting to retain some idea of innocence by listening to Elvis Presley records with friends or play sports like baseball and basketball. The third act begins with the arrest of Mr. Xiao as it would set the tone for his own revelation about his own connections in the government. It would also play into S’ir as he would deal with jealousy, heartbreak, and the realities of his own upbringing as he lives in a rural area of Taipei while a few of his friends live in posh houses and have all of the freedoms that he couldn’t have. All of which would lead to something horrific as it would affect not just families but also kids forcing to come to terms with themselves in this small island they might live in forever. Overall, Yang crafts an intoxicating and rapturous film about the year in the life of a young boy coming of age in 1960s Taiwan.

Cinematographers Chang Hui-Kung and Li Long-Yu do amazing work with the film’s cinematography in the way it captures the gorgeous colors of some of the trees and mountain-field locations as well as the usage of lighting for some of the scenes set at night. Editor Bowen Chen does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward for much of the film with the exception of the gang attack scene with its swift and frenetic editing that play into the action as well as sense of terror. Production designer Yu Wei-Yen and set decorator Edward Yang do brilliant work with the look of the home of the Xiao family as well as the ice cream parlor where they have a rock n’ roll band play every once in a while as well as some of the buildings at the town.

Costume designer Wu Le-Chin does fantastic work with the costumes from the khaki-like uniforms of the students as well as some of the clothes that was prevalent during the late 1950s/early 1960s including denim blue jeans in which a young girl is wearing. The sound work of Tu Duu-Chih is superb for the way it captures the atmosphere of live music as well as some of the natural sounds on a certain location. The film’s soundtrack consists a mixture of traditional Chinese and Japanese music as well as some rock n’ roll to play into the cultural divide between the old and new generation as much of the rock n’ roll music consists of songs made famous by Elvis Presley.

The film’s incredible cast feature some notable small roles and appearances from Cho Ming as the local store owner Uncle Fat, Tang Hsiao-Tsui as a young girl named Jade who would go out with Sly and later Ma, Bosen Wang and Zhou Hui-Guo as a couple of students in Deuce and Tiger respectively, Hsu Ming as a government official named Wang who is a friend of Mr. Xiao, Chang Ming-Hsin and Jung Chun-Lung as a couple of other students at the school who are in gangs in Underpants and Sex Bomb respectively, Stephanie Lai as S’ir’s youngest sister, Chiang Hsiu-Chiung as S’ir’s older middle sister who is religious, Lin Hong-Ming as a former gang leader in Honey who deals with his disappearance and disillusionment with gangs, and Lawrence Ko as one of S’ir’s close friends in Airplane who has an interest in girls and rock n’ roll like S’ir. Tan Chih-Kang is terrific as the rich delinquent Ma as a teenager that has managed to get a lot of girls while Chen Hung-Yu is superb as Sly as a member of the 217 gang whose father has connections to get people to play at venues he owns.

Wang Chuan is fantastic as S’ir’s eldest sister who knows how to speak English and can transcribe lyrics while eager to go to college in America. Chang Han is wonderful as S’ir’s eldest brother Lao Er as a young man who finds himself dealing with a gambling debt as well as trying to redeem himself only to be tempted back to that world of gambling. Wong Chi-Zan is brilliant as Cat as a young delinquent who befriends S’ir as he aspires to be a singer to express his love for Elvis. Elaine Jin is excellent as S’ir’s mother who copes with the financial struggles with the family as well as her concern for S’ir in his education. Chang Kuo-Chu is amazing as S’ir’s father as this government official that is eager to try and get his son back to day school as well as doing what he can to support his family only to become a suspect of espionage relating to his connection with Chinese officials. Lisa Yang is remarkable as Ming as a young teenager who is dating a gang leader as she struggles with her own family issues but also her identity as she becomes close to S’ir. Finally, there’s Chang Chen in a phenomenal performance as Xiao S’ir as a teenage boy who deals with growing pains as well as his own identity and role in the world while coping with love, rock n’ roll, and other things as it’s a very restrained as well as displaying that anguish and confusion into what teenagers go through.

A Brighter Summer Day is an outstanding film from Edward Yang. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, a riveting story of identity and growing up, and its setting during a crucial period in Taiwan’s history. It’s a film that offers so much in a story that is complex as well as displaying an intimate look into the life of a young boy in 1960s Taiwan. In the end, A Brighter Summer Day is a magnificent film from Edward Yang.

Edward Yang Films: (In Our Time-Desires/Expectations) – (That Day, on the Beach) – Taipei Story – (The Terrorizers) – (A Confucian Confusion) – (Mahjong) – Yi Yi

© thevoid99 2017

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