With the loss of appeal for commercial and propaganda films in Taiwan in the late 1970s and early 1980s, several young filmmakers saw the opportunity to create films that reflected more realistically the unique identity and complex political history of Taiwan in the 20th century. Film critics and historians often point to IN OUR TIME (光陰的故事) as the start of what would later be called the New Taiwan Cinema. An omnibus film produced by the Central Motion Picture Corporation in 1982, IN OUR TIME featured four episodes directed by Tao De Chen, Zhang Yi, Ko I Chen, and Edward Yang. Instead of focusing on heroic narratives or melodrama as seen in previous commercial films, these filmmakers turned the camera toward issues of local culture, urbanization, identity, and childhood. Throughout the four episodes of this film and many of the other films in the New Taiwan Cinema, including films from Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang, a common theme emerged: growing up.

This theme was central to many of Edward Yang’s films. Youth became the backdrop for which he could explore conflicting and changing identity in Taiwan, cultural memory, and stories from his own life. From the fractured memories of THAT DAY, ON THE BEACH (海灘的一天, 1983) to the alienating modernity of TAIPEI STORY (青梅竹馬, 1985) to the young professionals and criminals of TERRORIZER (恐怖份子, 1986), Yang’s work contemplates the past, present, and future of growing up in Taiwan. Perhaps his most fully realized work focused on this theme, A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (牯嶺街少年殺人事件, 1991) is a sweeping story of teenage rebellion during a time of transition for a generation of Chinese refugees born in Taiwan after the Communist Party gained control of mainland China. Set in Taipei in the early 1960s, the film centers on a young teenager (played by Chang Chen in his debut role) as he gradually falls into juvenile delinquency. Based on a true crime story from Yang’s childhood, the film creates an intimate portrait of disaffected youth coming to terms with their own cultural identity while growing up amid political unrest and the music and spirit of rock’n’roll.

In an interview in 1997, Yang reflected on A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY: “Every citizen in Taiwan has to face a question: what are we going to do in the future—reunification or independence? No one wants to face it. This story is the background for what’s going to happen in our future. I hope it helped. What is most special about Taiwan is exactly what is depicted in A Brighter Summer Day.”

Rarely seen in American cinemas, A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY will be shown in its original running time from a new 4K digital restoration. The Austin Asian American Film Festival is proud to co-present this epic of the New Taiwan Cinema at the Austin Film Society Cinema on June 19, 2016. Tickets are available at: https://austinfilm.org/co-sponsored-events/film-a-brighter-summer-day

–Daniel Mauro

Resources:

Zhang, Yingjin. 2004. Chinese National Cinema. New York: Routledge.