Saturday, 20 October 2007

Festival selection: Sheng Xia Guang Nian (Eternal Summer, Taiwan, 2006)

Director: Lester Chen.

Principal cast: Bryant Chang, Hsiao-chuan Chang, Kate Yeung.

A few decades ago it was widely assumed that there were bad films, then there were awful films and then there were Chinese films. Much has changed since those days, especially when it comes to contemporary cinematography from Taiwan. Films coming out of this breakaway part of China continue to impress and “Eternal Summer” is no exception. Its moody and almost intimidating landscapes are a fitting backgound for a story that in itself isn’t particularly original, yet necessary to tell – a story of entering the adult life where you have to make choices and sacrifices in a way you couldn’t imagine.

Our two protagonists, Jonathan and Shane (we’ll stick to their English names here), are practically coerced to being friends at an early age at school. Shane is being a disruptive and unruly child from whom all other kids shy away, and Jonathan, the class orderly, is ordered by his headmistress to befriend Shane to get him on the right path. Although Shane initially sabotages Jonathan’s attempts at changing him, they eventually form a friendship which will only get stronger as they enter adolescence together a few years later. They become virtually inseparable and nothing seems to threaten that.

A girl who has grown up in Hong Kong returns to her native Taiwan and joins the school which the two boys attend. Early on, Carrie, as she is called, befriends Jonathan and they even skip school for a day together to go to Taipei where they also stay the night in a hotel room. Carrie tries to seduce Jonathan but fails and their train ride back to school on the following day is conducted in awkward silence. It doesn’t take Carrie long to realize that Jonathan is in love with Shane and although she quitely accepts it, she is also confused. Shane becomes somewhat jealous that Jonathan seems to hang out a lot with this new girl and tries to get to know her on his own. As a result, Carrie becomes Shane’s girlfriend. In order not to hurt Jonathan, they try to keep it a secret, but no secrets can be kept forever and our three confused youths are taken on a bumpy ride of emotions they barely knew existed.

As I’ve pointed out earler, the plot in itself isn’t very original – girl loves boy, boy loves boy – a triangle drama which is seen before in different combinations. What sets this one apart is the depth of the characters’ emotions shown in respect to each other and the lip-biting silent suffering with which they bear their predicament. Shane is presented with a true dilemma – he can’t afford to lose Jonathan’s friendship, yet he doesn’t want to trade him for Carrie. His own feelings towards Jonathan are also more complex than just those of being his best friend which is clearly shown in one of the more passionate scenes. Jonathan, who can’t force himself to reveal his true feelings to Shane because he also fears losing Shane as his friend, is forced to make a choice as well as Shane. In their new adult lives things can’t stay the same. Carrie cannot but bear witness to the inner struggle in both of them as well as the struggle between them which culminates in a powerful scene on a beach set against the ocean background – the forces of nature at work.

“Eternal Summer” uses the grandness of the surrounding natural settings to highlight the human nature and the storms that it creates. It’s not so much about being one with the nature, it’s more about being part of it. Just like the ocean can get upset and start ravaging the coastline and sinking the ships travelling through it, so can people. Like the ocean, they can also calm down, but as long as they are alive, their emotions will never come to a complete halt. “Eternal Summer” is a beautiful coming-of-age drama which deserves to be seen by many people. The issues it deals with are universal and the fact that it’s in Mandarin shouldn’t deter anyone from seeing it. It is also worth mentioning that the film won the Golden Horse Film Award in 2006 which is the main Taiwanese film prize.

Here you can watch the film's trailer

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