Classic Movie Review: A Brighter Summer Day (1991)

Title: A Brighter Summer Day
Release Date: July 27, 1991
Director: Edward Yang
Production Company: Yang & His Gang Filmmakers | Jane Balfour Films

Something about A Brighter Summer Day reminds me of the epic tv mini-series of the 70s and 80s.  Obviously those miniseries were often sensational and kind of cheezy, which does not apply to this movie, but there’s still that feel of something big being told in detail.

Set in Taiwan in the early 1960s, A Brighter Summer Day documents a time when the Chinese Nationalists who fled the mainland in 1949 are coming to terms with their exile being more permanent than they previously realized, while their children grow in a perpetual state of uncertainty.  The film’s protagonist is a young teenage boy, Zhang Zhen (Chang Chen), whose nickname is Si’r.  At the start of the film, he begins attending a night school (although confusingly he’s also depicted attending school during the day as well).  The main storylines are a growing relationship with a girl named Ming (Lisa Yang), and while Si’r does not join a gang he grows increasingly acquainted with members of rival gangs including one lead by Ming’s boyfriend. The movie is a slow-burn of Si’r’s gradually deteriorating mental and emotional state leading to a tragic finale.

The plot of this film does not require it’s four-hour runtime.  That time does serve the purpose of fully immersing the viewer in the world of early 60s Taiwan. We see a strictly regimented society where the students wear military-style uniforms to school and the actual military parades their tanks through the streets. Si’r’s father (Chang Kuo-chu) runs into trouble for his past associations and is interrogated by the secret police.  But there also is an influx of American culture which manifests itself most clearly in the rock and roll music the children listen to and perform.

I’ve ready a lot of glowing reviews of this film and find myself unable to muster the same enthusiasm that this is a “perfect movie.”  Nevertheless, I’m glad I watched it as it is an all-around excellent production of a fictional story that illustrates a place and a time I previously knew nothing about.

Rating: ***1/2