Friday, April 24, 2020

Childhood as an Epic

A Brighter Summer Day (1990) - Yang
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Brighter Summer Day my ass, it's more like Grimmer Sad Day. Edward Yang's grand tale of coming of age in 60s Taipei might not match the other 4 to 5 hour sweeping epic stewing philosophical meanderings about life, time and space (there's War and Peace mentioned a couple of times by characters), but I guess that's the point. Life of the ordinary people as an epic. And an epic A Brighter Summer Day is: an epic downer.

Our expectations would be different if the English title of the film was the same as its Tawanese title, Youth Murder Incident at Guling Street. Based on the real incident in Taiwan, which explains everything. But because it was based on lyrics from Elvis's Are You Lonesome Tonight?, and I had no idea what it was about other than vague notion of it being coming of age film, it was all the more devastating.

It tells a story of Si'r (Chang Chen), a 14 year old night school student embroiled in two gang factions in the neighborhoods and his family, as well as his friends, enemies and about 100 different characters. It's a sprawling, novelistic work that plays out like a good book. Si'r's friends belong to Little Park Gang and sings in a band that plays American rock'n'roll. He finds himself attracted to Ming (Lisa Yang), the girlfriend of Honey, the missing leader of the gang. She turns out to be a femme fatale of sorts and Si'r fixates on her a little too much it stops to be cute but obsessive. There is a story with his parents coming from the mainland China and his educated father being harassed and discriminated at work in context of complex Taiwanese history.

There's a lot of details in this film that are just gorgeous cinematically- the local movie studio next to the night school provides plenty of great cinematic moments, the Gang raid and sword fight in the pouring monsoon night also present some excitiing visuals.

Yang had a great understanding of using childhood memories and making it universal, that this is not some random violence but each one of us are capable of the violence at the end. A Brighter Summer Day is a rich, beautiful filmmaking that needs to be watched and appreciated.

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