Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Eternal Summer 盛夏光年 (2006)

The seasons of love, the seasons of life: like Japanese haiku and waka, the best introspective movies have a seasonal component in their titles. The mildness of spring speaks of innocence and youth, while movies with summer in their titles have more scorching passions: in summer and teenage years, one experiences growing up, coming of age, first love. Within a title like Eternal Summer is the youthful command to celebrate the exquisite feeling where the realisation of being young and alive hits you for the very first time. Yet the title presents a simultaneous urge not just to celebrate the moment of youth but to freeze it in amber - because Summer, like youth, is a period so precious that you want to revel in and struggle against the impetus of the moment, which carries its own destruction within itself, a destruction called Change. That particular joy of being young and surrounded by those you love carries with it a knowledge that after this, nothing else will be the same - not you, not your friends, and not the relations between everyone.

"I don't want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again".

This may be what Christopher Lee felt for his Hammer Horror pal Peter Cushing years after his death, but it is the same feeling that infects and bothers two childhood buddies, Jonathan and Shane. Virtually inseparable since their primary school teacher forced them to pair up, the duo must come to terms with the long summer that they have slumbered in, when Carrie, a new classmate from Hong Kong, crashes into their lives. With her entrance, the wheels of change begin to move, and the duo will soon (and over years) realise - and yet deny - that their perfect moment of youth, a world to call their own, would never be quite the same afterwards. From here on, the stable dyadic relationship is transformed into a less stable, more nervous triad where the close relationship amongst the trio makes the process of growing up, making friends, and falling in love far harder and far more poignant than any ordinary summer experience. It is particularly even more so when all three take turns to develop from buddies to crushes to lovers with each other, and struggle to comprehend when exactly they turned from buddies to crushes to lovers...

I believe that certain quarters will try to make Eternal Summer out to be the LGBT movie of the year, but I am sorry to say that this isn't really what this movie is about. At the real heart of this movie is the teenage crush, the ones that play out in schools everywhere in the world, and happens thrice in this movie, the ones that happen between friends and even long-term buddies. Once you understand the core of this movie, the LGBT angle becomes far less transgressive than what the same quarters on the internet review circuit will suggest, and why the movie may appear to some as an utterly conventional teen school crush story reminiscent of many Taiwanese televsion serials (or idol dramas, if you prefer). You know, as if Meteor Garden were reworked as a fanfic by some yaoi fangirl. Oh, if you're a yaoi fangirl, do take note that certain cuts to the film have been made which I believe have compromised the integrity of an intimate scene, and changes it so drastically that audiences may be misled thinking a rape had actually taken place.

More impressive than the conventional story is Leste Chen's camerawork, which might be a more persuasive reason to watch this movie. The director's experience in producing Taiwanese music videos shows clearly in certain scenes, which are just hypnotic or heartbreakingly beautiful in a music video or KTV video kind of way. Unsurprisingly, Chen's music video background should explain why the camera seems to bask so lovingly in the beauty of Kate Yeung, who positively glows in almost every scene where she is on the screen, and why her co-stars Bryant Chang and especially Joseph Chang have very little camera charisma despite forming the main relationship in this movie. Viewers should also focus on the director's compositional skills; I believe the shots of Taichung by the sea and urban Taipei by the road are testament to his great eye for landscapes and backgrounds.

Eternal Summer is a credible evocation of the headiness and angst of that teen school crush, but comes rather at the wrong time for the career of Leste Chen. Coming as his second feature film, Eternal Summer betrays a certain lack of maturity and regret, a lack of a regretful and elegaic quality that its title promises and is inherent within the premise and script itself. Despite the moribund state of Taiwan filmmaking, this film is good enough to establish Leste Chen as a young filmmaker with occasional flashes of brilliance, whose future works must have our attention.

First published at incinemas on 26 April 2007

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