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Film / A Brighter Summer Day

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A Brighter Summer Day is a 1991 Taiwanese film directed by Edward Yang and starring Chang Chen.

The film takes place in the late 50's/early 60's at a time when many Chinese have fled to Taiwan. This has led to many teenagers forming street gangs. After failing to get into the day school, Xiao Si'r is forced to attend the night school which is filled with gang members. Si'r gets involved with Ming, who is dating Honey, the leader of the Little Park Gang, who has gone into hiding. The film examines what it means to be a teenager, mid-century Asian politics, and the increasing Americanization of Taiwan.

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Tropes:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Ming moves on from Si'r quickly after the latter is expelled and has to focus on his studies.
  • Alliterative Name: Si'r's real name, Zhang Zhen.
  • Based on a True Story: The film is loosely based on something that actually happened in Taiwan in the fifties.
  • Book-Ends: The film starts and ends with the radio listing students accepted to various schools in Taipei.
  • Dirty Coward: Shandong pushes Honey in front of a car while Honey's back is turned.
  • Downer Ending: Si'r kills Ming when he learns that she is cheating on him and faces fifteen years in prison for it, though this is commuted from a death sentence; his family's reputation is now ruined. Cat brings him a tape he recorded for Elvis, only for the wardens to throw it away.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ming's mother attempts suicide after Ming's death, but she ultimately survives.
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  • Epic Movie: Known as more of an "intimate epic," the film was an unprecedented production for a Chinese-language film, made over four years, employing more than 100 unknown actors in a large-scope film that lasts nearly four hours.
  • For Want of a Nail: If Si'r had gotten into the day school instead of the night school, he probably would not have gotten involved with Ming or the gang members.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Ming dies as she's trying to tell Si'r off.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The film features dozens of characters, many of whom are only known by nicknames (if they get any name at all).
  • Love Hurts: Si'r's life begins to spiral the more he becomes obsessed with Ming, who cares for him but doesn't experience the same depth of feeling for him.
  • May–December Romance: One of Ming's flirtations is an older doctor, who is treating her mother.
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  • Narrative Filigree: Although the film is about one teenager's downward spiral, many scenes don't contribute much to the plot and instead focus on the everyday lives of the characters.
  • No Name Given: None of Si'r's family members have names.
  • Nothing but Hits: Popular 50's music, especially Elvis Presley, is used to great effect.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Most of the secondary characters are known by their gang nicknames.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: All of the music in the film is music that the characters play.
  • Really Gets Around: Ming is known for having lots of boyfriends. This doesn't bother any of the boys except Si'r who ends up killing her over it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ming gives one to Si'r towards the end of the film, berating him for trying to change her (as Jade also did) and telling him that he's just like all the other boys. He stabs her in the middle of it.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Little Park Boys massacre the 217s during a dark, rainy night.
  • Shout-Out: Honey mentions that he read War and Peace while in hiding, and he compares the gang war to the events in the book.
    • At one point the characters go to see Rio Bravo.
  • Slice of Life: Though a touch more violent than the lives of most, it's overall a story of frustrated, aimless youth affected by the choices and circumstances of their struggling parents.
  • Title Drop: As Si'r's sister is transcribing Elvis Presley's Are You Lonesome Tonight?, she references the lyric. The film also plays a snippet of the song that includes the line.
  • Tragedy: The film is one for Xiao Si'r. He goes from being a upright student to being a murderer.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: After being built up for more than an hour off-screen, Honey is murdered by Shandong after only being developed onscreen for a few minutes.
  • Wham Line: Jade reveals that the girl Sly was kissing at the start of the film was Ming, not herself.
  • Yandere: Si'r can't handle Ming's flirtations with other boys, especially is old friend Ma; he attempts to ambush Ma with a knife after school, only to encounter Ming, who dies instead.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Ming gets involved with Si'r while she's dating Honey. Ming later cheats on Si'r with multiple other characters.

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