Title: A Brighter Summer Day
Director: Edward Yang
Length: 3hrs 57 min
Rating: Unrated in North America
WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian
Deep in the heart of the early 60s lied a community of Chinese descendants pushed away from their home country by Japanese occupancy and living in the suburb of Taipei. An older generation with a loss of identity and a younger one desperately trying to find theirs. Hailed as a masterpiece (I think I’ll be seeing this word sued a lot with these movies) of Taiwanese cinema, it takes a lens to the adolescent gangs that formed at the time and how the youth struggled to find their way. Based on true stories and a news report about a schoolgirl who was found stabbed to death, director Edward Yang wanted to try and understand how such an atrocity could occur amongst the youth and create a story exploring what can lead an adolescent to this tragic climax.
The story mainly follows one boy, Xiao S’ir, and his struggles with school, family, friends, romance and the gang warfare that is occurring. Through his eyes, we get to follow him through the various turmoils of the time and watch as they unfold. You know what the inevitable end is but it doesn’t stop the scenes from being tense. The entire movie is a slow burn to what we all know is coming and the build-up boils slowly as scene after scene passes by. Tensions are constantly rising as confusion builds, gang fights get worse and Xiao S’ir finds himself digging a hole deeper and deeper with his love interest Ming, who seems to be a large cause of the gang’s frustrations. Xiao S’ir as a whole is not a bad kid but is misguided. He’s a smart kid, loyal to his gang and friends, but clearly has a lot of frustration deep inside him that he doesn’t know what to do with that boils beneath the surface. It’s a great character study watching as Xiao slowly grows in his adolescence and seeing how he deals with every situation thrown at him. He’s a product of his environment and is just as lost and confused as his peers, most who find distractions in American music, such as Elvis as a way to find their identities. I’m sure if he had the choice he wouldn’t want to cause trouble but constantly finds himself in trouble as he can’t seem to manage and understand his own feelings and emotions, a struggle most teens go through but amplified due to his surroundings.
Heavy Duty Prep
This film took years of pre-production and planning before it entered shooting and it shows throughout. Every detail of the film looks like it was meticulously plotted out before-hand with very intentional shots that at first might seem odd but become clear as the scene goes on. Unorthodox shots such as the Point of View framing devices, which allows the action to be seen from the eyes of a certain character is (such as seeing the events in Xiao’s house from his perspective in his bed) or shots lingering on parts of the set while characters interact off-screen, are used to masterful effect. Edward Yang goes away from the classic use of medium shots and shot/reverse shots during dialogue and conversation and rather pulls away to show off the scenery and surroundings, letting the set breathe life as much as the characters do.
Speaking of characters, there’s a large variety of characters (played by more than 100 amateur actors in different roles) that it can get confusing to know who is who at sometimes. The characters aren’t even explicitly introduced making it more confusing as you try and remember the large list of names and who is part of which gang and friends with who and the connections they have together. There’s just so many of them it can get hard to follow as you question if you’ve seen this character or not. By the end of it, it becomes clearer for the viewer and you’re able to piece it together eventually, but you will find yourself asking “who is that?” multiple times through the film.
4 Hours Long…
This movie is long, incredibly long. So long it took me about four sittings to get through the entire thing. To some, it might seem like an excessive amount of time for a movie and maybe some scenes could have been cut here and there, but for this story, the time length is absolutely crucial to building up to the climax of the film. As I said previously, the whole film is a slow burn and it burns slowly, but that slow burn is what keeps you watching as the tension slowly builds throughout. The length allows for characters to just be themselves instead of only moving plot points ahead. You get to really see how each character is and how they’re defined. What they’re all going through is incredibly complex and even antagonistic characters are given a chance to grow and show depth thanks to the breathing room they’ve been given. You feel bad for everyone, even the worse because you know the real issue for most of them is that they’re just lacking the guidance they so desperately seek and make mistakes due to it. It would have been easy for the director to cut a lot of this out and focus entirely on Xiao’s story, but doing that would mean the audience would lose out on the reality of the situation. This isn’t just Xiao’s story, this is all their stories and the length gives the viewer a chance to see the multiple outcomes and consequences of what was happening. What’s interesting is ironical as the film progresses it becomes gloomier and darker. The title isn’t the reality but what the adolescent characters are yearning for every day of their lives. A dream that doesn’t feel like it could ever come true.
If you have four hours to kill and don’t mind watching a foreign film, then, by all means, I’d say you should check it out. It’s not for everyone, the slow pace and length can turn off a lot of casual film viewers and I can see a lot of people finding this boring, but for those who enjoy their films like that, I would say this is one to put on the list. Sticking to the end is well worth it and it pays off beautifully. Give it a chance if you have the patience for it.
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