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.