Identity Crisis in “A Brighter Summer Day”

“A Brighter Summer Day” is Edward Yang’s ambitious crime epic about Taiwanese street gangs in the 1960’s. Seeing this film reminded me of the first time I watched Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather”, Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America”, or Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”. It is a mammoth work of art that deserves its place among the greats of the genre.“A Brighter Summer Day” swept me away into a world of juvenile delinquency and rock and roll. Politically charged and boasting with energy, Yang’s novelistic vision is something to behold. 

The four-hour film revolves around a fourteen-year-old kid who falls in love with a troubled girl. The young girl used to date a feared gang member who has gone into hiding. When he makes a return to the village, things quickly escalate to violence and despair. In this true story about a crime that shook the nation,emotions run very high. Growing up and falling in love in the midst of a gang rivalry is too much to deal with for anyone. But this major work of Taiwanese cinema is so much more than a coming of age film about kids engaging in street fights. Beneath the surface, it’s about an entire nation in search for its identity. 

Rejected by the Chinese regime, a huge wave of immigrantswere left in the dust fighting for their dignity. Having fled communist rule in mainland China, the grown-ups struggled to make ends meet amongst the native Taiwanese people. They spent their days looking for the next hustle and longed for the good old days when the economic situation was stable. However, their first-generation kids didn’t share this nostalgia for the homeland. The film argues that since they never felt like they belonged anywhere, the lost youth started forming gangs in order to claim territory they could call their own. Shakespeareanin scope, “A Brighter Summer Day” will captivate you with itsgrittiness and dreamy lyricism. I can’t wait to revisit this time and place in the near future.

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