A Brighter Summer Day

A three-hour fresco of Taiwan circa 1960, A Brighter Summer Day is a companion piece to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness (which Yang produced). Through a story of petty gang wars it encapsulates a society in transition, as the last echoes of the Japanese occupation give way to an encroaching American culture (the title comes from Elvis Presley’s ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’). And behind everything are the secret police and the ever-receding goal of retaking the Mainland. Yang’s script is stamped with his own searing intellect: the story is rich in throwaway motifs that bear fruit much later with overwhelming impact. It builds through scenes of escalating violence to a shocking climax and then caps it with a real heart-breaker. But behind the tragedy are hints of change and of ‘a brighter summer day’. Spellbinding and a visual knockout, with golden photography and a stunning use of deep focus, this is one of Yang’s masterpieces. You’ll wish it were even longer. (Taiwan, 1991. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby stereo. 185 mins.)

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