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A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (GU LING JIE SHAO NIAN SHA REN SHI JIAN)(director/writer: Edward Yang; screenwriters: Yan Hangya/Yang Shunqing/Lai Mingtang; cinematographers: Zhang Huigong/Li Longyu; editor: Chen Bowen; cast: Chang Chen (Xiao Si’r), Lisa Yang (Ming), Chang Kuo-Chu (Zhang Ju), Elaine Jin (Mrs. Zhang), Wang Juan (Elder Sister), Ke Yulun (Airplane), Tan Zhigang (Ma), Wang Qizan (Cat), Xiao Hu (Tiger), Hongming Lin(Honey), (Professor Xia), Alex Yang (Shandong); Runtime: 237; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Yu Weiyan; Central Motion Picture Corporation; 1991-Taiwan-in Mandarin and Taiwanese with English subtitles)

“Masterly done four-hour loosely based autobiographical film of the late Taiwan filmmaker Edward Yang.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The masterly done four-hour loosely based autobiographical film of the late Taiwan filmmaker Edward Yang (“Yi Yi”/”Mahjong”/”The Terrorizers”), who died in 2007 at the age of 59 and who was one of the leading pioneers of the Chinese New Wave movement. The important work in the growth of Chinese cinema, Yang’s fifth film, is based on a true incident that took place in 1961. It’s an ambitious, unnerving, elegant and slow-moving epic film that tells of urban strife in the 1960s among troubled teens in the big city, of what it’s like growing up in Taipei for the young, of youth gang rivalries, of dating, of first love, of the importance for the middle-class to get into the right school, of how alienated outsiders are living in the city, of a fast changing Taiwan looking to find its own identity as it’s overwhelmed after 1949 with over a million new arrivals from mainland Red China, the dangers of teens hanging out in seedy pool-halls and of foreign objects like a Japanese general’s sword greatly affecting the present day Taiwanese culture in a negative way. It’s excellent in giving a detailed historical and sociological lesson on modern Taiwanese society and the efforts of the Taiwan government at nationalization and how the population is motivated by their fears of Communist China. The film covers a series of events during the course of a school year that are largely sympathetic to the youth who are growing up in a harsh and competitive society and are screwing up. Seemingly most transplants from mainland China will not have a chance to succeed in Taiwan. The title was taken from the lyrics of an Elvis song, as one of the filmmaker’s many concerns is the intrusive Americanization of Taiwan and the undue influence of its empty pop culture.

The film mainly focuses on the life of the 14-year-old S’ir (Chang Chen), one of five children living a middle-class life in Taipei. He’s a smart but an indifferent high school student, in constant trouble with the nasty school authorities. S’ir’s blunt civil servant father (Chang Kuo-Chu) brought his teacher wife (Elaine Jin) from Shanghai to Taipei in the wake of 1949’s civil uprisings and hopes his children will grow up to be honest and have a good life in the new land. But trouble seems to find S’ir, as in 1960 he’s caught between rival neighborhood gangs of the 217 Village Boys and the Little Park Boys as he becomes romantically interested in the pretty but troubled classmate Ming (Lisa Yang). Her notorious boyfriend Honey (Hongming Lin) is leader of the Little Park Boys, and he killed a romantic rival and has gone into hiding. Honey first appears in a Navy uniform, as he comes out of exile to tragically confront his rival 217 Village Boys gang and their leader Shandong (Alex Yang). Thrown in front of a passing car by Shandong and killed, Honey’s gang retaliates by attacking the 217 Village Boys during a rainstorm with Japanese swords and they make their rival leader pay dearly with his life for killing their leader.

S’ir’s friends are Xiao Ma (Tan Zhigang) and the younger rock and roll wannabe Cat (Wang Qizan), who can’t speak English but sweet talks S’ir’s older sister (Wang Juan) into phonetically translating a number of American rock songs, including Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” which he sings at clubs and school events.

The hard-pressed father, whose career prospects are getting increasingly worse, desperately and ultimately in vain tries to rescue S’ir from a life of poverty or crime by using his important professional Shanghai contacts to try and get junior into the right school without having to bribe his would-be benefactors.

With over a hundred speaking parts it was difficult following all the characters and some events seemed unclear, but what was clear is that this is a special work of art that is more than just about teen gangs and politics. It’s a lyrical and subtle film that understands and can artfully explain the chaos of a xenophobic island country with growing pangs and with great hopes for the future, which finds itself lost when hit by tragedies. The main incident in this film serves as a metaphor for the dwindling hopes of the once promising Taiwan to find its soul and true identity before it’s too late.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”