Film response: A Brighter Summer Day

A Brighter Summer Day
Directed by Edward Yang
237 min, Taiwan, 1991

I still find Yang’s persistent determinism to be dispiriting, but this 4-hour tale of juvenile delinquency set against the backdrop of social and economic repression and uncertainty for Chinese & Taiwanese families in a 1960s Taipei is so engrossing and so full of detail that afterward you’re likely to feel like you’ve read the novel based on the movie rather than just the movie alone. 

The title is pulled from the lyrics of Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight? (In one scene, a married couple discusses whether or not the phrase is grammatically correct.) and the promise offered by American optimism hangs around the movie’s periphery like a moody teenager, (like James Dean, maybe) as children guide tanks with flashlights on the streets, as gangs war over who can attend the concerts in English and who gets the money, as government officials interrogate suspected undesirables while they sit in their underwear on giant blocks of ice.

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In one of the film’s many scenes in which a character responds dramatically to a sight or sound happening out of frame, a portrait of JFK is featured on a magazine behind her, nearly center frame, barely noticeable, but still suggestive.

Originally published on Letterboxd.

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