Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love, Friendship, Jealousy and All That

Eternal Summer
Directed by: Leste Chen
Starring: Bryant Chang, Hsiao-chuan Chang, Kate Yeung
Release date: October 13, 2006

Reviewed by Andrew C.C. Huang

Directed by Taiwan up-and-coming director Leste Chen, “Eternal Summer” is part of a Taiwan New New Wave films that feature coming of age story with teenage protagonist and told in accessible plotlines. It’s also a piece of the growing canon of Taiwanes queer movie with “The Wedding Banquet” and “Vive L’Amour” as its progenitors and “Blue Gate Crossing” and “Spider Lily” as the recent examples. That said, “Eternal Summer” is also one of the best Taiwanese films of the year.

Director Chen, who put his name on the cinematic map last year with the ghost thriller “The Heirloom,” also the second highest grossing film n Taiwan in 2005, proves his mettle by serving up this poignant tale about interwoven love and friendship among three high school students.
Jonathan (played by Bryant Chang) is an honor student who enjoys the company of his roguish and handsome friend Shane, (played by Hsiao-chuan Chang) who excels in basketball but is aimless in life. The two spend their time frolicking until the appearance of a female student named Hui-chia (played by Kate Yeung) from Hong Kong.
Hui-chia becomes attracted to Jonathan and spends her time with him. The two skip school one afternoon for an adventure to the big city Taipei and check into a love hotel. As Hui-chia starts to become intimate with Jonathan, a flustered Jonathan bolts and leave the hotle with Hui-chia behind.
When the two show up in school the next day, Hui-chia doesn’t appear irated. She is in fact tolerant and understanding. Jonathan is standing in the library taking a peek at Shane, who is playing basketball in the baseball court. Creeping up on a wistful Jonathan, Hui-chia knowingly suggests, “Why don’t you go down there to watch him play?”
Later on, Hui-chia confronts Jonathan about his sexuality and assures him that she would not tell others.
As Jonathan strays from Hui-chia, Shane takes up his chance to pursue her. The two quickly become a couple, leaving an awkward Jonathan as the third leg in the equation.
As Jonathan begins to untangle himself from this complicated triangle, Shane attempts to win his friendship back and ends up having sex with Jonathan. The complication rolls on until all three of them yell their hearts out in confrontation on a beach.
As Shane, actor Bryant Chang successful holds the film together by conveying the desires and ordeals of this conflicted homexual teenager. Formerly a TV actor with credit mostly in television idol soap dramas, Chang sheds his TV mannerism to portray this character with minutiate gestures and subtle facial expressions. The shock on his face upon learning that his two friends are a couple and the spaced out agony on the bus ride home are in-the-moment emotions that pull the audiences right in to side with his character.
Actor Chang Hsiao-chuan, who played against type as a tall but subservient teen homosexual in the highly acclaimed TV drama “Crystal Boys” two years ago, plays up his mascular physique this time by portraying a devil-may-care charmer running around on the basketball court. Chang’s natural charisma makes him the ideal actor for this character as the subject of desire.
Hong Kong actress Kate Yeung, who played a ditzy young girl in the Pang brothers’ horror flick The Eye 10,” gets to show off her ability as a dramatic actress here with her unfeigned presence.
Director Chen errs by opening the movie with a prologue scene in which a teacher in the kindergarten instructs an honor student to befriend a deviant student who has no friend.
Meant as a set-up scene to explain the unlikely friendship between the goody-goody Jonathan and the rakish Shane, this scene is extraneous and actually undercuts the power of the movie.
Even without the prologue scene, the wonderful finale scene on the beach would have still worked and actually resonate on more levels.
Classic lines such as “I need you because I have no friends” and "No one should be lonely. How about us?" are bound to strike a cord with the audiences even without an expository scene.
While this writer is usually not a fan of ambiguous ending, director Chen is well advised to keep this ending ambiguous. Wonderfully suggestive, infinitely haunting and effortlessly resonating, this open ending serves as a delicious icing on an already well baked dramatic caked filled with juicy fillings of human emotions.


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