[REVIEW] A Sun 阳光普照

我也好希望跟这些动物一样,有一个阴影躲起来。但是我环顾四周。。。都可以找到一个阴影的角落可是我没有,我没有水缸没有暗处只有阳光24小时从不间断,明亮温暖,”阳光普照”

阿豪

I am not as exposed to the Taiwanese films as I am to other countries. But Netflix’s A Sun really changed my perspective of Taiwanese cinema I am now excited to watch more great offers from Taiwan.

Directed by Chung Mong-hong, A Sun peeks into the lives of the Chen family which soon turn melancholic as their older son Ah-hao commits suicide and their younger son Ah-he in reincarceration after a bloody fight. The film takes an unexpected twist in the ending when we see the father, a driving instructor, really putting his career to use by driving over Cai-Tou, a friend from Ah-he’s rebellious past, killing him in the process.

THE SUN AND THE CLOUDS

The sun sets and rises again. The sun extends its reach even to the far ends of the earth, showcasing our talents and of course highlighting our flaws to the rest. For the intelligent and considerate Ah-hao, the sun is his greatest enemy because it never stops pressurising him to be the brightest star in the sky. Ah-hao is the epitome of a good boy. He is intelligent, philosophical, humble and a considerate son for his parents. After all, he is the ‘lighter’ brother. Yet nobody knows what he is thinking at all; the negative thoughts just snowball inside him and prevent him from telling others how he genuinely feels and thinks about things.

The sun exposes Ah-hao to the public all the time. He is the pride of the family, constantly shining brighter than Ah-he, but this 24/7 exposure drains him out mentally and emotionally. Like he explained, he has no “dark places” to hide because he is unable to find one and even if he does, he cannot escape to it. He does not have time to be bad or express himself, he must carry this excess baggage by himself.

Meanwhile, younger brother Ah-he fails to shine under the shadows of Ah-Hao and even with Ah-hao gone, the father refuses to acknowledge Ah-he’s existence. But what is great about the film’s bad boy trope is that Ah-he actually turns over a new leaf after his release from the juvenile detention center – something that I did not predicted at all. As a matter of fact, this Taiwanese movie was just full of surprises throughout; I foresaw a plot where Ah-hao would fall in love with Xiao Yu during Ah-he’s incarceration and when the latter is released, a sibling rivalry over Xiao Yu. But no-uh, Chung surprises me in many ways.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film not only for its plot but its stunning cinematography which at times really makes me just pause and ponder on myself and life. The scene where Ah-he is running (back home) on the highway is amazing. The aerialshot hovering over Ah-he emphasises just how tiny he is relative to the elongated highway yet his will to keep running and moving forward proves his determination to truly start afresh when the obstacle – Cai Tou – is gone from his life.

And I just love those lingering shots where nothing significant truly happens in frame. The suicide scene was cold and quiet, nothing too violent and we do not know where Ah-hao is going. After all, Ah-hao keeps his thoughts to himself. We only realise that things are wrong when the neighbour knocks on the house. Everything is so subtle yet we know what is going out.

And there are also those scenes where we gaze at the driving center. With the father’s catchphrase “把握时间,掌握方向” (Grab hold of the time, command your direction), it is an irony here as we are spending so much time looking at it and hearing the father saying it over and over again. At times, it feels like the movie is telling us to do exactly as the words commanded: do make use of time wisely. But at times, it seems to be mocking us. Ah-hao has a collection of unused notebooks from his dad’s company and for a hardworking student like him, he would definitely use notebooks quite often. But he does not, instead letting them pile up at one side, illustrating just how this quote is simply not applicable in real life but only in a driving center where things are in control by an instructor.

Not to mention the motif of stormy clouds as a motif of death. It foreshadows an upcoming death of a character, first seen when Ah-hao brushes his teeth the night he decides to end it all. The second time we see those clouds again is when Cai-tou was murdered by Ah-he’s dad. But I have to admit that the dealer Cai-tou was negotiating with was rather understanding with Ah-he, letting him go when he knows Ah-he is forced by Cai-tou. The clouds contrast greatly with the flaming sun, allowing characters to release their repressed and dark emotions and desires, creating a balance in them.

STOP AND STARE

I don’t think what the movie is telling is to drive mindlessly without knowing where you are going to. In the case of Ah-hao, he is accelerating but his destination is unclear. He knows what he must do but he does not know why. As for Ah-he, he is on the bicycle, slow but constant, allowing him to look at his surroundings. It is not about getting ahead of others, it is also vital to take pauses to figure out your directions when you are lost.

Overall, I really adore this film and highly recommends everyone to give it a watch even though it is in Mandarin. I like the realistic take of the film especially. Some films will show how Cai-tou will be apprehended by the police once again for his crimes but A Sun‘s ending just shows how events can unfold in reality. The bad guy is not caught because the police is incapable of doing so, hence the father has to take things his own way and end Cai-tou’s life. I would, however, prefer if we have more insights to Ah-hao’s life. We all know the reasons he committed suicide but it would be better if we have a more detailed look into his life and how his train of thoughts came about. The same applies for Xiao Yu. Though she is only a supporting role, I feel the movie will be more complete if we have more glimpse into her story.

My favourite scene in the film is when the youths in the center sang Wakin Chou’s hua xin 《花心》 as a parting gift to Ah-he

Rating: 5 out of 5.

[REVIEW] Joker

All I Have Are Negative Thoughts.

Arthur Fleck

These are exactly the ingredients needed that created Joaquin Phoenix’s 2019 interpretation of the DC villain Joker. Note that I used the word ‘created’ and it is not a mistake; society gave birth to him.

Now before I proceed further, I must admit that I know nothing much about the Batman universe. There are too many installations and different portrayals of Joker; the iconic one by the late Heath Ledger, the modern Joker by Jared Leto, and in this show, a mentally ill-turned villain by Joaquin Phoenix. I genuinely assumed that they will be somehow related but oh boy was I terribly wrong.

In Todd Phillips’ film, the ‘villain’ Joker is a Gotham City resident who was raised in a physically abusive environment which left him with a mental condition that makes him laugh for no reason. For fears that the public may misunderstand him, party clown and aspiring stand-up comedian Arthur keeps the card as seen below with him in his pockets. One might argue that the beginning of the end of Arthur’s life started when a lady sitting in front of him did not return him back his card, causing him to shoot in self-defense when three Wayne Enterprises employees assaulted him on the New York Subway.

The card Arthur keeps with him everywhere he goes in case of he laughs uncontrollably in public Credits: https://www.reddit.com/r/joker/comments/dybgb1/you_think_thats_funny_check_out_triforgedstudios/

GOTHAM PRODUCED BATMAN. AND HIS NEMESIS.

In this case, it takes the whole of Gotham City to produce a villain. If that lady on the bus had returned him his card, he could have prevented himself from shooting those three employees dead. If those deaths had not occur, billionaire Thomas Wayne would not have condemned the killings and launch for mayor and so on and so forth. Well in technical aspects this sequence of events serves as plot progression but these events send Arthur’s life to be in a downward spiral.

The people that crossed path with Arthur all played a role in his eventual downfall (and rise as Joker) but the issue is that none has an incentive to support him. None, even the magnate Thomas Wayne is obliged to assist him financially or in kind. It is for this reason why social services are in operations and yet their funding are slashed. With social services funding cut, Arthur literally has no means of stablising his condition which leads him to behave in a ‘different’ manner when on the New York Subway. (This brings up how mental health is not regarded as an essential service during the “circuit breaker” in Singapore.)

Was Arthur wrong for spurring tensions and conflicts within the society? Or was he merely forced to choose this criminal path because society turned his back against him? (gosh I am reminded of my days in urban economics class where I learned about Gary Becker’s economic theory of criminal behaviour…). Like what I have been arguing so far, this ‘Joker’ is only one of society’s production. Arthur’s ikigai is to bring joy and laughter into the world and while Thomas gets to build his empire, Arthur finds himself unable to do so and builds his criminal empire instead.

Other DC films may have portrayed the Joker as mainly a psychopath and notorious match-worthy villain to Batman, but Todd Phillips’ one depicts Joker the way he is: just a regular human being. To live with mental illness is uneasy as we see Arthur hallucinating the happy times with Sophie. Being mocked at on national television for his mental illness is also another troubling thing and this part shames us all as we surely have done something or called someone ‘crazy’ or a ‘lunatic’ before. Joker is interesting not just because it is an origin story but also owing to the fact that it is one (precautionary) tale that we can, sadly and unfortunately, identify with.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
We dance when we are happy, celebrating or when we just want to express ourselves. In Arthur’s case, he is only descending the stairs of insanity. But side note, Arthur (Joaquin Phoenix) really has got the grooves.