[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] Goodbye, Dragon Inn 不散

Ahh, a film about cinema. Nope, it’s not a boring documentary about the Lumiere Brothers, Georges Melies or film’s evolution to Disney films and CGI movies. Goodbye, Dragon Inn presents a touching tribute to the cinema prior to mass-produced Hollywood movies.

CINEMACEPTION

Imagine watching a cinema while inside a cinema. Sounds strange but yep, this it the case for Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang’s 2003 work. The film opens in an unusual way; we hear a male narrator reciting the backdrop to another Chinese film, King Hu’s wuxia film Dragon Inn (1967). The background sounds blast loudly on my speakers and the brightly coloured cinema screen contrasts greatly with the pitch-dark scenes we see later. When we see the credit scenes, we noticed that the old Taipei cinema is actually packed with movie-goers. But this was the exact opposite case in the film’s ending.

As the film progresses, we see the emergence of three major plot lines: a homosexual Japanese man cruising for a sexual encounter in the old Fu-Ho theatre; a fairly young and crippled ticket woman making her way to the projectionist’s room to express her love for him; and actors of the 1967’s film reuniting in the theatre as they watch their former selves on the big screen for the last time.

A young grandson in the cinema hall

You might not have noticed it at the start but the cinematography is carefully selected to mimic the actual viewing experience in a cinema. The opening credits are shown at the beginning and we see the various types of cinema-goers. There are those who munch their snacks without a slight bid of regards to others and the fidgety ones who keep interrupting your movie experience. And at the same time, we have a serious audience who keeps his eyes glued to the screen even when their neighbour is sexually pestering him. While the wuxia movie is showing, the life outside the cinema hall has not stopped. The ticket lady limps to deliver her gift – a Chinese longevity peach – to the projectionist she likes. All these events unfolding itself while Dragon Inn is showing resemble how real life does not stop for anyone, let alone a movie.

REEL IS NOT REAL

Despite its relatively simple plot, the 2003 movie can be rather hard to watch as we impatient audiences are so used to big and animated actions on the screen. I expected epic and comedic scenes in the show where the Japanese guy and the ticket lady can each find their love in the cinema and live a happy married life. But no, this is not what Tsai gives us in the 90 mins shot. We did not get a quick escapade of life; we are, on the contrary, shown a glimpse of real life in a Taipei city.

Tsai adopted a series of long takes to mimic real life screen time and at first, it does help to build-up anticipations and emotions for the climax. But as we soon get used to this, long takes simply lowers our expectations that anything will happen. We are forced to sit through minutes where nothing really happens. But that’s just the way it is with life, isn’t it? Life is nothing as wild as presented in the 007 series or as romantic in the Before… trilogy and you would be the luckiest person on earth if you had friends like Rachel, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, Monica and Ross. Just like how we see the characters in Goodbye, Dragon Inn eating, taking long toilet breaks and walking around doing nothing, real life, unfortunately is filled with repetitive and mundane moments. But we all have hopes for each day that someone out there will persevere through flights of stairs to express their feelings for us with a steamed bun.

Homosexual scene in the cinema’s toilet

And certainly life has its own challenges. In this movie, we witnessed how the characters have unfulfilled and unattainable desires. In the homosexual scene, there are just too many people coming in and out of the toilet, making it impossible for any sexual acts to be performed. The Japanese guy was rejected by the handsome Chen Chao-Jung in the dark alleyway and our projectionist ignored the longevity bun left by his colleague. It is entirely different world of the Dragon Inn where the brave and valiant heroine can save the day in the fictional Ming Dynasty setting. There simply is a gap between our world and the cinematic world.

The gap between real and fictional worlds

A TRIBUTE TO THE PAST

With the adoption of the 1940s song liu lian 留恋 as the film’s closure, it feels like Tsai is dedicating his film to the people and memories of the past. Having fond memories of his childhood, Tsai shares this nostalgia through the old movie paraphernalia and collectibles which were used as props. Most notably, the casting of Miao Tien and Shi Jun as themselves and the choice to screen the martial arts classic only invoke childhood memories in, possibly, the cinema-goers who have grown up seeing them.

As I watched the film as part of my class, I couldn’t help but feel emotional in the last few scenes, specifically the one where the ticket lady cleaned up the cinema. It is interesting to note that it is in fact our very first time seeing the massive Fu-Ho theatre in all its glory and yet it’s our last time. It seems to me that this particular long take scene is for us to arrest this moment, forcing us to remember the cinema in its details before it closes down. And yes, the scene is extremely long and screen time felt like real time. When I was watching it, it has a similar dreadful feeling when our loved ones bid us farewell. It’s like the cinema is bidding us goodbye or maybe it’s the other way round, for us to thank the cinema for the memories and say farewells. If the cinema is a person or has emotions, I guess this is how it feels.

And while we are at the topic of nostalgia, let’s talk about the ghosts in the movie. They are unlike any you’ve seen, well, in movies hopefully. Gone are the long hair wigs and pearl-white drapes. The director wants to challenge and critique Classical Hollywood Cinema here by making the ordinary extraordinary. Forget long-haired blood-dripping ghosts, the ones we see in the film look, behave and munch on peanuts like normal beings. In addition, by abandoning dramatic moments, we are given an emotional climax – Shi Jun crying as he realises it’s the last time he will ever see himself on the big screen. This, again, proves Tsai’s point that films do not need a predictable story to impress and appeal to viewers. And as Tsai Ming-Liang envisioned, he, indeed, need not follow the footsteps of Hollywood films for Goodbye, Dragon Inn.

“我想起月下,我想起花田。多少的往事留在我心田。一半是心酸,一半是甜蜜。一年又一年常叫我留念”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.