Are you lonesome tonight,
Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day
“This film is dedicated to my father and his generation, who suffered so much for my generation to suffer less. I hope they, the forgotten, can be made unforgettable.”
“Begin at the beginning. The opening moments introduce the rules, the intrinsic norms, of Yang’s film. During the credits, a hanging lightbulb is switched on. Pulsating light becomes a multivalent motif throughout the film, carried via a flashlight, abrupt power cuts, and in a climax some hours later, a lightbulb smashed by a baseball bat. As the credits continue, a flagrantly uninformative extreme long shot shows a man pleading with an unseen educator. He’s complaining about his son’s grades and asking about the boy’s transfer to a night school. Who is he? In probably the most unemphatic introduction of a protagonist in Taiwanese cinema, we get another extreme long shot of the boy we’ll come to call Si’r, waiting outside. It’s Kuleshov constructive editing at work. There’s no long shot establishing the two spaces, nor can we assume that the first shot is, retrospectively, Si’r’s optical POV. But Kuleshov, who cared about punchy clarity, could hardly have approved of the far-off, information-stingy framings. Throughout the film we’ll see doorways block off parts of the action, extremely distant views frame a few scrubby figures, and shots dwelling on empty zones. This opening teaches us how to watch the movie.
The result is that story motifs – the light bulb, the flashlight, the mother’s watch, a samurai sword, a vagrant snapshot, rock-and-roll tunes, baseball bats – don’t simply repeat across the film but rather mingle and overlap. Tony Rayns speaks of ‘resonances’; we could as easily talk of ‘ramifications.’ Each prop or incident radiates in several directions, becoming a node in several plot lines. The dots we connect fuse in a multidimensional space. The strategy has affinities to Yang’s earlier films, but in none of them do we have this spacious dramatic density.”
“In fact, the other writers and I built up detailed psychological profiles and personal histories for virtually every character in the film [There are over eighty speaking parts]. If someone asked me to make a 300-episode TV series about these people, I’d have the material to do it. [...] In structuring the film, we looked for ironies and tried to set up connecting chains of action and reaction. We tried to anchor it by tying characters to particular events, but each strand was designed to contribute to the scope of what we were building up. It took us some time to work it all out. Even though the full version runs four hours, I think it’s very lean.”
Edward Yang in conversation with Tony Rayns3
“When we were hanging out and talking about what we were going to make as filmmakers, one thing we agreed on was that we would make our own stories from our own perspectives and that we would depict reality. A Brighter Summer Day actually came from Yang’s own personal experience, plus a very sensationalized news story at the time about this particular incident. And you can see Chang Chen, The Assassin’s (Hou, 2015) lead actor, in his first film. He was fourteen years old at the time and already very good-looking.”
Hou Hsiao-hsien in conversation with Kent Jones4
- 1Edward Yang, Director's Statement, 1991, Criterion booklet.
- 2David Bordwell, “A Brighter Summer Day: Yang and his gangs,” Observations on Film Art, 16 June 2016.
- 3Tony Rayns, “Lonesome tonight,” Sight and Sound, March issue, 1994.
- 4Hillary Weston, “Hou Hsiao-hsien on the Films That Changed His Life,” The Criterion Collection - The Current, 20 October 2015.