Monday, October 7, 2013

A One And A Two.

Even though the summer is over (and it is, despite the unseasonably warm weather), I was browsing through my movies recently, and I was struck with the urge to finally shove off the lingering season by watching Edward Yang's sumptuous, slice-of-life/coming-of-age/delinquent youth epic masterpiece, A Brighter Summer Day (牯嶺街少年殺人事件 Gǔ lǐng jiē shàonián shārén shìjiàn), whose title was derived from the Elvis Presley song, Are You Lonesome Tonight?
I was first introduced to Yang via his most widely available (thanks to the Criterion Collection), and final film, Yi Yi.  Watching either film is a slight undertaking due to their length (Yi Yi is 3 hours long, and A Brighter Summer Day closes out at around 4), but the way in which Yang portrays his linear events in his pictures have an almost episodic feel to them, allowing the viewer's attention to continually refocus as the momentum keeps at a steady rhythm.  It's not all jump-cuts or high-kinetic pacing though; Yang lets the seemingly stable and everyday moments in his films speak for themselves, allowing them the attention they deserve, and in the process, keeps us fascinated by such seemingly mundane activities.  There is a natural tension to real life, and Yang recognizes that an afternoon in the principal's office can be as tense as a run from the police, and the real life alienation that the two feel are often times very similar.

In fact, it was those themes of alienation explored by Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni that helped Yang find his place as a filmmaker himself.  Although he always had a fascination with film, Yang instead studied electronic engineering at National Chiao Tung University (sounding familiar to anyone else?) before giving it a try at UNC Film School after getting his Masters degree in electrical and computer engineering.  Yang found the curriculum and teaching at UNC too commercial-driven and limiting, and after leaving USC was accepted to the Harvard Graduate School Of Design, where he did not attend.  If all this is sounding a bit too convoluted, hang in there: While Yang was working on microcomputers in Seattle, Washington, he was struck by the film Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, by Werner Herzog, and later discovered the work of Antonioni before returning to Taiwan to pursue a career in film and TV.

I admittedly have not seen all of Yang's work (I'm certainly working on it, though), but the films of his I have seen are some of my absolute favorites.  Unfortunately, the director passed away from colon cancer in 2007, so we'll never get to see what heights his later films could have reached (2000's Yi Yi is considered his best film, by many).  He was reportedly working on a full length animated film with Jackie Chan (the fucking best) titled The Wind, and if you're like me, you can throw that film on the pile with Jodorowsky's Dune and anything else Satoshi Kon was going to do as the greatest sounding movies we'll never get to see (I know there is a Dune documentary coming out soon, and maybe The Dream Machine will get finished, but still...).  For all his hiccups towards his film career though, Edward Yang was able to create some of the most memorable moments I've had watching films, and in a way, with such a short career, much like Satoshi Kon, the audience was always on the upswing of his work; his films were only going to get better, and we can only imagine, in selfish elation, what would have come next.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Taiwanese New Wave, which Yang shared with fellow directors, Hou Hsiao-hsien (if you haven't watched Daughter Of The Nile, please do), Wu Nien-jen, and Tsai Ming-liang (among others).  It's interesting to note that not all directors in the Taiwanese New Wave were Taiwanese, and I think that says some interesting things not only about it's film industry, but about Taiwan itself.

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