Boy, was this one needlessly long. There’s something about long films and their reception that tells me that people seem to automatically believe that just because a film is longer than it should or needs to be, even if the film is otherwise average in every respect, that it is somehow better for it. To me, it is not; it is just long, and that’s all there is to it. Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day is a four-hour opus about the life of Taiwanese youths who end up forming gangs after their upheaval from mainland China, mostly in order to find some semblance of belonging. The mild plot points aside, it’s the first part of that sentence that you should really take note of: this is four hours long, and damn if it doesn’t feel like it. What made me even more frustrated than just having to slog through a four-hour film was that the film, as a whole, was really unremarkable. It was very well made, but like so many other well made films, it stays way too far under the radar for you to really say to yourself, “Wow, that was really well made.” That, also, is why this film feels as long as it is.
The film follows Si’r, a member of one of the youth gangs in Taiwan, who gets along doing relatively normal gang stuff, which for this film amounts to beating up rival gang members, and a lot of running around chasing rival gang members so they can beat each other up. Well, soon enough, Si’r finds himself acquainted with a girl, who, as it turns out, is involved with the leader of the rival gang, making for a very Shakespearean love triangle. As far as the main plot goes, in terms of summarizing, that’s about it; the film packs a lot of narrative into its running time, and a lot of stuff happens, but it’s mostly just to extend the running time. I mentioned a while ago in my review of Satantango that that film was long merely because the director wanted it to be, and for no other reason, and I got the same impression from this one, though it wasn’t as gratuitous as Tarr’s film. The plot was needlessly long, simply because Yang wanted it to be long. This is a story that easily could’ve been told in an hour and a half, or two hours, and it has, given the multiple films that have plots that run along the same lines as this one: boy loves girl, but girl is involved with other boy, etc etc. What takes up the rest of the running time is a bunch, a BUNCH, of subplots, involving Si’r’s family members, his relationship with his teachers at school, and a film studio nearby that the kids frequently loiter around, and which takes an interest in Si’r’s new female friend.
This took me three days to get through, and for good reason; this is as mild as mild can get. The cinematography, while professional, was otherwise not notable, and the mood of the film was one of ultimate natural reality. Whether or not this one was literally exactly like life in these Taiwan youth gang neighborhoods I can’t say, but from what I got of this film, it is pretty damn close, if not exact; thus, why the four hour film feels like four hours, because for the whole time you’re watching the film, you realize it is. This, more than anything, is why the film got the rating it did. I couldn’t fault it too much, because it is at least well made, but that is literally the only thing the film has going for it. As well regarded as this is, I honestly couldn’t say to gather the time to watch this one; it’s just not worth it. Hopefully the other obscenely-long films I’ve got remaining have a little more in terms of selling points, especially entertainment value, since this one pretty much fell flat in that regard.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10