A Brighter Summer Day: Taiwanese New Wave Review

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A Brighter Summer Day

Release: 1991-07-27Genre: CrimeDuration: 237 minsBudget: $ 0

A boy experiences first love, friendships and injustices growing up in 1960s Taiwan.

A Brighter Summer Day

Release: 1991-07-27Genre: CrimeDuration: 237 minsBudget: $ 0

A boy experiences first love, friendships and injustices growing up in 1960s Taiwan.

The Taiwanese New Wave: A Look at Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day

Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day is an immersive and daring four-hour epic that offers a masterful portrayal of identity and adolescence. It is widely regarded as the pinnacle of the Taiwanese New Wave—a movement in Taiwanese cinema that emerged in the 1980s and continued into the early 1990s. This era provided a fresh perspective and voice to Taiwanese filmmakers, who explored various dynamics including politics, traditional values, and the struggles rooted in their country’s complex history.

The Taiwanese New Wave and its Filmmakers

The Taiwanese New Wave movement spawned renowned filmmakers such as Tsai Ming-liang and Hou Hsiao-hsien, who offered a new outlook on Taiwanese life by veering away from commercialization and prioritizing realism. However, it is often argued that Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day best embodies the essence of this era. With a runtime of four hours, every minute of this film is artfully utilized to navigate a multitude of themes, from violence and friendship to the director’s distinctive worldview.

A Glimpse into A Brighter Summer Day

Set in 1960, A Brighter Summer Day follows the story of Si’r (Chen Chang), a teenager who begins attending night school after his academic performance declines. It is during his time at the night school that he befriends the Little Park Boys gang, a group that finds itself in a rivalry with another gang known as the 217s. Si’r’s relationship with the Little Park Boys becomes strained when he develops tensions with Sly (Hung-Yu Chen), who assumes leadership of the gang after their former leader, Honey (Hung-Ming Lin), goes into hiding for committing murder. The dispute between Honey and Ming (Lisa Yang), his girlfriend, escalates tensions between the two rival gangs. Amidst this backdrop, Si’r and Ming form a friendship that eventually blossoms into a romantic relationship. As their relationship deepens, violence and conflict between the Little Park Boys and the 217s escalate. Simultaneously, the film delves into Si’r’s family background as refugees from Communist China struggling to adapt to their new environment, providing a broader context for the characters’ descent into a life of crime.

Foundations in Taiwanese History

A Brighter Summer Day serves as a reflection of Taiwanese history. In 1949, when Communism took hold of China, many families sought refuge in Taiwan under military governance. The new generation of Chinese children brought up in this unfamiliar land faced numerous challenges and lacked clear direction. In search of solace, many turned to delinquency. Yang’s film also draws inspiration from a notorious real-life case in which a teenager murdered his girlfriend—a personal recollection from the director’s own childhood. These historical events and struggles are reflected in the film’s characters. Si’r, the protagonist, becomes increasingly drawn to extreme violence, resorting to murder and even assaulting his own principal with a bat. Despite his actions, Si’r finds a sense of belonging amidst the chaos, as his family offers no guidance. The film also portrays the confusion arising from the clash of cultures, with strict regulations from Native Taiwanese society juxtaposed against the rebellious influence of American rock ‘n’ roll.

A Multifaceted Narrative

However, A Brighter Summer Day is not solely a melancholic tale. It successfully captures the essence of a coming-of-age story, balancing moments of delight, first love, friendships, and heartbreak. Si’r’s experiences with Ming and his friendship with fellow student Ma (Chih-Kang Tan) provide elements of joy and hope within the narrative. Even seemingly small subplots, such as Ming’s screen test at a nearby film studio, offer glimpses of wonder. The film extends beyond the confines of violence and digs into the intricacies of Si’r’s family dynamics, touching upon universal themes intertwined with politics, culture, and the search for self-identity. Yang’s storytelling prowess ensures that audiences remain captivated throughout the film’s lengthy runtime.

A Brighter Summer Day: A Film of Immense Depth

A Brighter Summer Day may appear daunting with its 237-minute runtime, but the film’s duration is a testament to its immersive storytelling. Yang masterfully utilizes this extended timeframe to develop both the story and its characters, resulting in a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience. Even without prior knowledge of Taiwan’s history, viewers can resonate with the characters and their backgrounds, which echo the struggles faced by young individuals across cultures. Yang’s skillful approach elevates the film beyond conventional coming-of-age narratives, intertwining politics, culture, and family dynamics. With its novel-like structure and unwavering engrossment, A Brighter Summer Day stands as Edward Yang’s finest work and an exemplification of the Taiwanese New Wave.


A Brighter Summer Day encapsulates the essence of the Taiwanese New Wave, offering an immersive exploration of identity, adolescence, and the struggles faced by Taiwanese youth. Edward Yang’s masterful storytelling, coupled with the film’s extended runtime, allows for a comprehensive narrative that captivates audiences throughout. While rooted in Taiwanese history and culture, the film delves into universal themes, providing a relatable and thought-provoking experience. A Brighter Summer Day is a true cinematic masterpiece that continues to resonate with audiences to this day, showcasing the immense talent of Edward Yang and the impact of the Taiwanese New Wave.


1. What is the significance of the Taiwanese New Wave in cinema?

The Taiwanese New Wave brought fresh perspectives and voices to Taiwanese cinema, focusing on realism and exploring various societal dynamics. Filmmakers during this era portrayed the struggles of Taiwanese life while deviating from commercialization.

2. How does A Brighter Summer Day reflect Taiwanese history?

A Brighter Summer Day portrays the challenges faced by a new generation of Chinese children who migrated to Taiwan with their families after the rise of Communism in China. The film reflects the complexities of adapting to a new culture and environment.

3. What sets A Brighter Summer Day apart from conventional coming-of-age films?

A Brighter Summer Day goes beyond the familiar territory of coming-of-age narratives by incorporating themes of politics, culture, and family dynamics. It offers a unique perspective on the search for identity and self-belief in troubled times.

4. How does Edward Yang’s storytelling engage the audience in A Brighter Summer Day?

Edward Yang’s storytelling skills shine through in A Brighter Summer Day, keeping the audience fully engaged despite the lengthy runtime. He artfully balances moments of violence with tender friendships and first love, offering a comprehensive and immersive viewing experience.

5. Why is A Brighter Summer Day considered Edward Yang’s magnum opus?

A Brighter Summer Day showcases Edward Yang’s exceptional skill in storytelling and his ability to capture the intricacies of Taiwanese society. Its immense depth, combined with Yang’s distinctive worldview, solidifies its place as his finest work and a standout film of the Taiwanese New Wave.