[Film Review] A Brighter Summer Day (1991)

A Brighter Summer Day poster

English Title: A Brighter Summer Day
Original Title: Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian 牯岭街少年杀人事件
Year: 1991
Country: Taiwan
Language: Mandarin, Min Man, Shanghainese, Cantonese
Genre: Crime, Drama, Romance
Director: Edward Yang 杨德昌
Hung Hung 鸿鸿
Lai Mingling 赖铭堂
Alex Yang 杨顺清
Edward Yang 杨德昌
Li Huigong 
Zhang Longyu 
Chang Chen 张震
Lisa Yang 杨静怡
Chang Kuo-Chu 张国柱
Elaine Jin 金燕玲
Wang Chuan 王琄
Chang Han 张翰
Lin Hongming 林鸿铭
Chiang Hsiu-chiung 姜秀琼
Lai Fanyun 赖梵耘
Wang Bosen 王柏森
Tan Zhigang 谭志刚
Chen Hongyu 陈宏宇
Wang Chi-tsan 王启赞
Tang Xiaocui 唐晓翠
Lawrence Ko 柯宇纶
Jin Shijie 金士杰
Zhang Mingxin 张明新
Chen Yiwen 陈以文
Zhou Huiguo 周慧国
Chang Ying-chen 钟宜成
Hou Te-Chien 侯德健
Hsu Ming 
Hsiao Ai 
Danny Deng
Shen Hang 沈杭
Ni Shu-chun 倪淑君
Alex Yang 杨顺清
Tang Ru-yun 唐如韫
Tsai Chin 蔡琴
Rating: 8.9/10

A Brighter Summer Day 1

A 228 minutes saga from the late Taiwanese director Edward Yang (Yi Yi 2000, A CONFUCIAN’S CONFUSION 1994), A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY, whose literal translation of its original Chinese title is “The Murder Incident of the Boy on Guling Street”, is based on a true event in the 1960s, a 14-year-old boy murdered his 13-year-old girlfriend, and became the first juvenile offender served in jail since millions of mainland Chinese retreated to Taiwan in 1949 after the civil war.

the ruffian youngsters

the ruffian youngsters

Xiao Si’r (Chen Chang in his film debut) is a high school boy, the fourth child (out of 5) in the family, his parents, played by Kuo-Chu Chang and Elaine Jin, are the first generation of immigrants from mainland China. Significantly introduced by the inter-titles at the beginning, for those who are oblivious of the political context, it is a generation of uncertainty and insecurity, they oscillate between kicking off their new life in an unfamiliar island (e.g. the Japanese house they live in) and wallowing in their past homeland, therefore, as their children, the future is more up in the air, the only viable way is to gang up and act out their adolescent hormone and hot-blooded rebellion by trite brawls, loafing around and merrymaking.

Honey meets Xiao Si'r

Honey meets Xiao Si’r

The film is an onerous undertaking for the Taiwan cinema (not only at that time), it encompasses more than one hundred amateur actors with multifarious locations, the epic of its narrative progression is patiently and elegantly drawn out by Yang’s dispassionate camera angle (sometimes tilted) and long takes, the flux of emotions is gradual but ample, one memorable example is the killing spree in the pitch-black during the outage, overtly pays the homage of Bushido’s code of vengeance, the cruelty of survival stands out markedly.

Ming, the girl of everyone's dream

Ming, the girl of everyone’s dream

Before Xiao Si’r meets Ming (Lisa Yang, her one-and-only screen role to date), he is a top student in the class, irrelevant to any gangster behaviours, afterward he falls in love with her in the most implicit and Asian fashion, but she has a boyfriend Honey (Hongming Lin), who is the leader of the Little Park gang. When Xiao Si’r finally meets Honey, there is no hard feeling, Honey’s idealistic lonely-hero ambition magnetises him, and after Honey’s death, he follows his suit to be the guardian angel of Ming and involuntarily is involved in the payback carnage.

Bosen Wang and Chi-tsan Wang, the singing duo

Bosen Wang and Chi-tsan Wang, the singing duo

Ming is the most complicated character in the film, firstly we watch her go back to a big house, presumably think she is from a well-heeled family, then we realise she lives with her single mother, who is the maid of the house, and soon is laid off because of her aggravated illness. Ming is much more mature and worldly than her age, and her innocuous looks can easily deceive audience and the infatuated Xiao Si’r. During the pivotal stabbing sequences, she determinedly hollers “the world will not change for you!”, it sharply counters Xiao Si’r’s indoctrinated belief “my destiny is in my own hands”, two worlds collide, and casualty ensues. Here comes the act of passion and its grim consequences. It is a cri-de-cœur from a disillusioned youth, to the adult promiscuity, to the ubiquitous bureaucracy, to the unjust world!

A Brighter Summer Day 5 A Brighter Summer Day 8

The family united

The family united

Yang presents an ultra-rich fodder among numerous supporting characters, each one brings about a certain empathy in the societal furnace, Xiao Si’r’s family in particular, five children are all imbued with their distinct dispositions and the tenable relationships among siblings are by turns heart-melting and heartily-understanding. Their father undergoes a sea change when being excruciatingly investigated by the national security officials, Kuo-Chu Chang and Elaine Jin are professional thespians among the large cast, both are strikingly captivating without any incongruous histrionics with the rest first-time youngsters.

the murder incident on Guling Street

the murder incident on Guling Street

A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY is one of the most important contemporary masterpiece of Taiwan cinema, and should be recommended to cinephiles from all over the world with Yang’s other legacies, I can write a lengthy essay parsing every single role and contextualising their incisive bonds under that particular societal backdrop, but first of all, it is in urgent need of BluRay restoration, the DVD version I watched is way too inferior.

For all categories

For all categories

4 thoughts on “[Film Review] A Brighter Summer Day (1991)

  1. Pingback: [Last Film I Watched] Daughter of the Nile (1987) – Cinema Omnivore

  2. Pingback: [Film Review] Monga (2010) – Cinema Omnivore

  3. Pingback: [Film Review] That Day, on the Beach (1983) – Cinema Omnivore

  4. Pingback: [Film Review] Taipei Story (1985) – Cinema Omnivore

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