A Brighter Summer Day (1991) - 9,5
"A Brighter Summer Day" is a terrifying film, showing the harsh reality of Taipei's streets in the 60s after the Chinese Civil War, that took place between 1946 - 49, forced millions of Mainland Chinese to flee to Taiwan. Hauntingly ruthless reality as if it had been rescued from the memories of someone who lived it as a teenager. The film focuses at this stage of life of a boy, the collapse of illusions, search for identity, paving way through emotional turmoil, learn to grow from marking experiences, all this becomes more urgent in the severe struggle for survival within the sea of street gangs that instigate a culture of violence and transgression among the youngsters. The teenage mob, permeable to external factors by nature, has in Taiwan multicultural melting pot a major influence for either the better or worse. Without the strong lead from previous generations, youths can find themselves helpless in a volatile and merciless world.
"A Brighter Summer Day" is usually labelled as a Drama. In my opinion, the experienced world is too stark and ruthless to have a merely neutral attitude towards it, any glimpse of hope or optimism is fleeting and soon turn mirage. I'd say this is a fine Horror specimen in equal measure, probably one of the very best I've seen. It does remind me of Kurosawa's "Ran" in its disenchanted view of the cruel human nature. The difference is that "Ran" softens (in a counter-productive manner) the impact of violence and brutality depicted on the screen by way of Kurosawa's style and for the fact that it is an allegorical fiction while Yang's work, on the contrary, enhances even more what could have been a real experience through very raw, yet intelligent and subtle cinematics. Some scenes evoked in me genuine feelings of horror and despair like no other film has done in a long time, "City of God" (2002) from Fernando Meireles is similar in this aspect, or at least has the same potential, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Brasilian director had taken inspiration from the Taiwanese work. It's frightening and deeply heartbreaking to imagine myself living those worlds in my own skin as a child or teenager.
Yang has great cinematic skill and this film easily immerses, curiously the bad picture quality enhanced even more the power of persuasion making the experience all the more haunting to me, for once I'm glad I didn't watch a film in HD. The acting is surprisingly accomplished taking into account that more than 100 amateur actors were used, it didn't actually seem to me that so many actors were ever on the screen, the film felt quite consistent and uncomplicated on the whole. The only thing that I would change are some of the last moments, I didn't feel as involved as in the rest of the film, the persuasive factor decreased very quickly. I felt there was a bit of dragging and the expression of religious disappointment towards the main character's tragic fate seemed redundant to me. This won't irk my appreciation for this work, but it wouldn't hurt to edit away a few minutes of redundant footage at the end of a film that is virtually perfect over 4 hours, only my opinion. It makes sense to say this is a technically perfect work.
This is the second work of Edward Yang to get printed in my memory, another masterpiece. The heritage of "A Brighter Summer Day" inherited by "Yi Yi" is easily recognizable in the plot, style, the way that thematics are developed and even in the brilliant moments of cinematic introspection, but this doesn't decrease "Yi Yi's" value in my eyes because both films have very different qualities. "Yi Yi" focuses on broader themes without the gloominess that plagues "A Brighter Summer Day" and the visuals are more polished. "Yi Yi" makes me feel like I experienced a whole life filled with bittersweet enchantment, "A Brighter Summer Day" makes me feel like I experienced a living nightmare during the brief period of a troubled youth. Both works are rich in thematic substance and equally epic, but they're completely different worlds. "A Brighter Summer Day" is wonderful and deeply moving, highly recommended!