[Film Review] That Day, on the Beach (1983)

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Title: That Day, on the Beach
Original Title: Han yan de yi tian 海滩的一天
Year: 1983
Country: Taiwan
Language: Mandarin, German, Japanese, Hokkien
Genre: Drama
Director: Edward Yang 杨德昌
Wu Nien-Jen 吴念真
Edward Yang 杨德昌
Music: Lam Man-Yee 林敏怡
Christopher Doyle
Chang Hui-Kung 张惠贡
Sylvia Chang 张艾嘉
David Mao 毛学维
Terry Hu 胡因梦
Tso Ming-Hsiang 左鸣翔
Hsu Ming 徐明
Li Lieh 李烈
Nan Chun 南俊
Yen Feng-Chiao 颜凤娇
Mei Fang 梅芳
Ng Siu-Gong 吴少刚
Hou Tao-Hsiao 小戽斗
Hou Hsiao-Hsien 侯孝贤
Lin Rui-Yang 林瑞阳
Rating: 7.4/10

That Day, on the Beach 1983.jpg

The feature debut of lionized Taiwanese New Wave director Edward Yang, THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH enterprisingly surveys the shifting sand of Taiwan sociology at its time (namely the 1970s when women are awaken by an urge to modernize their roles in the society), through the microcosm of a young woman’s checkered life and her resultant transmogrification.

A frame story begins in the present time, an accomplished pianist Weiqing (Terry Hu) returns to her motherland Taiwan for the first time after 13 years abroad for a one-night-only solo concert and dithers about the invitation to meet Jiali (Sylvia Chang), the younger sister of her ex-boyfriend Jiaseng (Tso Ming-Hsiang). Finally, Weiqing cancels the afternoon press conference and meets Jiali inside a coffee shop, after exchanging courtesies, the narrative rewinds back to the college years when they first met.

Yang rejects a more conventionally chronological narrative and jump-cuts between different time-frames according to the subjects of Jiali and Weiqing’s laconic conversation, with only Jiali’s varying coiffures as signifiers (short-haired, curly, fringed or schoolgirl style) of its specific time. The chunk of the story happens during Weiqing’s absent years, after she is jilted by Jiaseng, who yields to an arranged marriage organized his father, and soon takes up the latter’s baton of their family’s private clinic.

Affected by her brother’s choice, when come to marriage, Jiali goes the opposite, sneaking out of her parents’ at night and marrying her college boyfriend Cheng Dewei (David Mao) of her own accord, but conjugal rift eventually catches up with them, aka. the irreconcilable conflict between a business-thrusting husband and a love-wanting housewife and the life as she knows it, is forever changed on “the day on the beach”, when Dewei mysteriously vanishes without any warning.

Naturally we are intrigued by Dewei’s determinate whereabouts, is he dead by suicide or furtively decamps abroad with his company’s money? Yang deliberately keeps the answer at bay, as audience will realize then, either outcome makes no difference for Jiali, she is alone again, and offered a new lease on life if she can live down the past and find her feet. This female-emancipation leitmotif reveals Yang’s deeply humane aspect of his view on life, in line with a keen eye on atmospheric burnishing and a propensity for unobtrusive long-takes, Yang’s artistry has already shaped an incipient mold in his first, ambitious undertaking.

On a less celebratory note, the film suffers mostly for its bloated length, a 166-minute is a stretch for the elliptical modality in Yang’s spatio-temporal leaping storytelling, which is further exacerbated by the cast’s stilted diction of a faintly histrionic screenplay (proffered by the celebrated writer Wu Nien-Jen nonetheless), its dialogue, more often than not, oscillating between mawkish to forced poetic, it brings about a detached un-realness to a Chinese ear (it is lesser a problem for subtitle readers though), a rookie’s mistake as the symptom would be massively ameliorated in Yang’s later works.

The multi-hyphenate Sylvia Chang barely reaches her 30s, so it is a proper time for her to straddle the 13-year age gap from a callow college student to a mature business woman and she is most eloquent in those wordless, emotion-betraying close-ups, whereas a prepossessing Terry Hu proves herself to be a true screen beauty of her time, to a point it almost makes her character’s abandonment like an achingly preposterous joke. In the main, THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH is a resounding testament of an auteur’s first step into his vocation and heralds a rosy future in the offing (ill-fatedly Yang passed away in 2007, aged 59, with only 7 feature films under his belt).

referential points: Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (2000, 9.6/10), A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (1991, 8.9/10); Hou Hsiao-hsien’s DAUGHTER OF THE NILE (1987, 7.0/10).

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2 thoughts on “[Film Review] That Day, on the Beach (1983)

  1. Pingback: [Film Review] About Elly (2009) – Cinema Omnivore

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

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