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Original Title:
Sheng xia guang nian

Taiwan 2006


Leste Chen

Bryant Chang
Joseph Chang
Kate Yeung

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Eternal Summer

Story: Jonathan (Bryant Chang) is young and has to learn for his final exam, which will decide which university he will be attending in the future. His best friend Shane (Joseph Chang) isn't that good in class, but has the university ticket already in his pocket, anyway, thanks to his outstanding performance in the school's basketball-team.
The new student from Hong Kong, Carrie (Kate Yeung), hits on Jonathan and the two spend a nice day in Teipei. However, when things get serious Jonathan drops out of the date, because there is someone else he loves. And that is no one else, but Shane...
Carrie learns to accept Jonathan's decision, but can't just watch how he is uncapable and unwilling to express his true feelings towards Shane. Still, that's just because Jonathan is still very confused himself and doesn't know how people around him and society in general would be responding to his outing as a gay. Let alone the fact that he might be putting his friendship with Shane in jeopardy, if he would tell him about his true feelings. Carrie wants to force a decision out of him, but as things go Carry somehow ends up being the new girlfriend of Shane. Between the three there are some fights, naturally, which is also because Jonathan doesn't seem to be the only one who is unsure of his feelings...

Review: Movies from Taiwan are almost a rarity and thus we can feel lucky about any film that finds its way on the big screen. Nevertheless, concerning Leste Chen's ("The Heirloom") latest work, we have to find out that originality must have gotten lost somewhere along the way. The movie is about teenagers who are confused about their sexual orientation, and still the director misses to work that special something into his movie. This one could have become a nice drama, but in the end "Eternal Summer" is just too restricted in what it actually wants to convey as a message. At times the director also seems to be too wavering in what he wants to express. This steers the movie into a dead end and deprives the movie of any emotional impact on the viewer. What's left is a piece of film that merely stands out because of some appealing pictures, good actors and a sometimes nice atmosphere.

With its main premise "Eternal Summer" inevitably reminds us of "Blue Gate Crossing". But where latter one was successful and felt almost magical, Leste Chen's work fails. Chen manages to bestow a certain warm and fuzzy atmosphere upon his film, but the plot just hasn't enough to offer for 90 minutes of drama. There is only little happening on screen and the movie merely lives and breaths at least a bit of drama, because of the emotions shown by the characters. Sometimes there is a little bit more of it, at other times the emotions are conveyed in a more subtle manner, which surely may be appealing, but it's just not enough to keep up the audience's interest for what's happening to the characters.

Fortunately, Bryant Chang, who is playing the main protagonist Jonathan, can give a pretty good performance. His personality is rather reserved, complex and he is uncertain about who he really is, which just makes him someone many teenagers can relate to. With the little difference, that he is also unsure about his sexual orientation. After he didn't manage to spend the night together with Carrie he almost has to be certain that he actually loves his friend and therefore is different from the majority of people. That's just where problems start to emerge and it gets the more interesting when Carrie, also portrayed convincingly, even if depicted somewhat restrained by actress Kate Yeung, suddenly becomes the girlfriend of Shane. We get a love triangle that's almost typical for any romance drama, if it weren't for the fact that all three of them still seem to be searching for what love really is about.

At the end, obviously no one of the three wants to be lonely. Their emotions rotate around a center of confusion, of which the individuals involved can't seem to find a way out even towards the end. Or at least not all of them. For many this will be the main reason why "Eternal Summer" proves to be so frustrating, even the more as the movie's message gets presented a little bit too self-admiring. For the simple fact alone that there is almost no message. "Eternal Summer" really takes the easy road and doesn't provide the drama-fan with a new insight to the topic, that would be worth reflecting about.
At least director Chen hits the right notes every now and then when it comes to the mood and atmosphere, so that we can actually be moved towards the end. That is of course if you are willing to go with the movie's slow pacing, which may tempt you to switch off after some time.

It's a fact that "Eternal Summer" is incredibly tedious and lengthy. Furthermore, the film really could have been a bit more provacative. Aside from a very short and restrained bed scene between Shane and Jonathan there isn't much to be found here, either. However, what I meant with "more provocative" wasn't stuff like this, of course, but a more courageous message, which is just missing.
Nevertheless, the film can score some points with an engaging soundtrack and most of all with some beautiful pictures. Especially the landscape shots with the green meadows and fields are a feast for the eye. The atmosphere really can go to your heart and can be quite touching, making this drama work only because of its mood, which is also created by the help of the actors. However, this isn't enough to prevent the viewer from feeling bored at times.

It's obvious that I was rather disappointed by the movie. This is a surprisingly mediocre drama, which can't come up with anything new and some times is even dragging and completely eluding our sympathy. It's only thanks to the good actors, of whom Joseph Chang as Shane is outshining anyone with his charismatic performance, that the movie can gain some ground. Of course, the nice cinematography is also part of the film's short list of strong points, and thus at least the atmosphere is quite appealing. This is also the reason why the movie works out better than it deserves to. Still, "Eternal Summer" surely isn't anything special, at all.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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