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A Brighter Summer Day

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1 hour ago, magadizer said:

Did anyone pick this up and see it for the first time? I'm still processing my thoughts, but this was a powerful experience. 

I picked up a copy, but probably won't get to it until later this week. 

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This movie has apparently enjoyed a great hype among those fortunate enough to see it prior to the recent Criterion release. But the critical praise it had garnered was, in my opinion, well earned.

This is a densely layered movie, that, despite the four hour running time, doesn't spend much time lingering or meditating.

I had some difficulty following it for a while, as there were so many characters, and initially it's not clear which are the most important ones. Sometimes it is filmed in such a way as to not allow the viewer to really begin to even see who they are, either due to lighting or camera placement. But eventually, it becomes clear. At any rate, a repeat view will be necessary to even begin to get the most of the first hour or so of the film for me.

The setting is the early 60s in Taiwan, a very foreign place to me. What is very interesting is the pervasive weaving in and out of so many disparate cultural elements. The protagonist, Xiao S'ir, is from a family that are Chinese refugees from the mainland Communist government. They live in a Japanese style house, and the kids are obsessed with American pop culture like Elvis songs and John Wayne movies. All of this is talked about in depth in a lot of reviews and discussions of the film.

But there is one foreign cultural element that I haven't seen or heard discussed: Christianity. S'ir's mother and one of his sisters are devoted Christians. A hymn (if I recall correctly, it was a translation of what we know in English as "Near to the Heart of God") is heard more than once, and there is a shot of S'ir's sister singing in the choir. At one point near the end, his sister tries to bring him in to the church to talk to her pastor, in an attempt to help him to get past his troubles. She appeals to him explicitly as a Christian, and compares a punishment that her older brother had taken for him to the sacrifice of Christ.

Now, it's not clear to me after one viewing what, if anything, to make of the Christian elements in the film. Are they just another example of the foreign cultural melting pot of the time, or does Edward Yang see Christianity in a more significant role than, say, the presence of Japanese Samurai swords in the gang wars depicted?

I welcome other thoughts on the matter.

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I saw the movie on a crappy internet version a few years back (which was the only way to see it at the time, so it wasn't violating copyright in any meaningful sense), and even in that limited way, I could tell the movie was a masterpiece.  I really need to see it again on the new Blu-Ray.

I can't remember the Christian elements in A Brighter Summer Day, but the religious elements of Yi Yi might be of interest.  If I recall correctly the mother in that film goes to a Buddhist retreat to deal with her grief and attempt to find herself.  But we are never really privy to what her experience is there; instead we follow the other members of the family as they go about trying to find themselves.  It seems like Yang is very interested in the various ways people deal with the alienation and feelings of meaninglessness that modernity can bring, and religion is clearly part of that.  But religious characters are ancillary to the plots of his films, and religious beliefs do not seem to be important foci of his interests.  I definitely need to see more of his work, though, (I also watched Taipei Story in a lousy version on YouTube), and I'll be watching for the Christian elements in A Brighter Summer Day next time.

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I took advantage of the recent long weekend in Canada to finally watch A Brighter Summer Day after having recently caught up with Taipei StoryThe Terrorizers, and his segment in In Our Time. Add my voice to the chorus of praise. I was pretty wowed by it, not only by how dense it is, but by the amount of care that went into every composition and character interaction. What struck me most about it is that it never achieves an epic scale, despite being three minutes shy of four hours, which means that the length of the film is there to help us understand these characters and this world in great detail, not to blow up the interpersonal conflicts into a struggle for the ages. But at the same time, Xiao S'ir and the many other characters in the film do stand in as kind of heroes of a historical romance, set at the turning of a society and representing the greater social movements as a whole. It's hard to think of another movie off the top of my head that does a better job of having characters act as historical and social symbols while also investing in these characters as human beings. Thus, A Brighter Summer Day and Wang's other works like Taipei Story do an incredible job of using character and conflict as a means of exploring the overarching changes of a society, but without reducing the characters to mere ciphers. It's a neat balance and a good indicator of how special this movie is.


"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film." - Werner Herzog

3brothersfilm.com

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