A Brighter Summer Day

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A Brighter Summer Day
A Brighter Summer Day (movie poster).jpg
Theatrical poster
MandarinGǔlǐng jiē shàonián shārén shìjiàn
LiterallyYoungster Homicide Incident at Guling Street
Directed byEdward Yang
Produced byYu Wei-yen
Jan Hung-tze
Edward Yang
Screenplay byHung Hung
Lai Ming-tang
Edward Yang
Alex Yang
StarringChang Chen
Lisa Yang
Chang Kuo-Chu
Elaine Jin
Wang Chuan
Chang Han
CinematographyChang Hui-kung
Li Long-yu
Edited byBowen Chen
Yang & His Gang Filmmakers
Jane Balfour Films
Distributed byCine Qua Non Films
Release date
  • July 27, 1991 (1991-07-27)
Running time
237 minutes

A Brighter Summer Day is a 1991 Taiwanese epic[1] teen crime drama film directed by Edward Yang, a director associated with the "New Taiwanese Cinema." The English title is derived from the lyrics of Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?". The film was selected as the Taiwanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 64th Academy Awards but was not nominated.[2]

Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s and inspired in part by Yang's memories of the sensational coverage of a teenager tried for killing his girlfriend,[3] the film centers on Xiao Si’r (Chang Chen), a boy from a middle-class home who veers into involvement with gangs and juvenile delinquency.


Zhang Zhen (nickname Si'r) is a student in junior high in Taipei in 1959. After failing a test, he is forced to attend night school. This upsets his father, a career government worker, who is aware of the delinquency rampant among night school students and worries that it will affect Si'r. The next morning, Si'r and his father listen to a radio broadcast listing students accepted into various schools in Taipei.

A year later, Si'r, along with his best friend, Cat, spy on the filming of a period drama in a movie studio. Caught by a guard in the rafters, they steal his flashlight and flee the studio, returning to their school. Si'r, noticing movement in a darkened classroom, turns on the flashlight and startles a pair of lovers, whose identities remain unclear. Two gangs of students, the Little Park Boys and their rivals the 217s, are introduced. Si'r is not a member of either gang, although he is closer to the Little Park Boys. The Little Park Boys are led by Honey, who is hiding in Tainan from police after killing one of the 217s over his girlfriend, Ming. Sly leads the gang in his absence. Sly and Si'r become rivals after Si'r gets Sly in trouble, believing him and his girlfriend, Jade, to be the pair of lovers he saw. Meanwhile, Si'r and Ming meet by chance and become friends.

Sly proposes a truce between them and the 217s, arranging Western pop music concert with members from both gangs. Preparations for the concert appear to be going well until Honey, wearing the stolen uniform of a sailor as a disguise, unexpectedly resurfaces and berates Sly for setting up the concert; however, he realizes the gang respects Sly more. The night before the concert, Honey meets with Si'r, who he has taken a liking to, and "bequeaths" Ming to him, believing him to be a stable boyfriend. The following night, Honey appears outside of the concert hall, antagonizing the 217s. Narrowly avoiding a beating, Honey takes an apparently friendly walk with the 217's leader, Shandong, only to be murdered when Shandong pushes him in front of an oncoming car. The Little Park Boys do not believe police reports that it is an accident, and plot revenge; they murder the 217s, including Shandong, during a typhoon, using weapons acquired by Ma, one of Si'r's wealthy classmates. Sly and the surviving Little Park Boys go into hiding. The same night, Si'r's father is arrested by secret police and interrogated about his past. While eventually freed, he is demoted.

Si'r, meanwhile, has begun a relationship with Ming (who has gotten over Honey's death), and seems to be improving academically. However, she reveals to him her flirtations with other boys, including a much older doctor, which bothers Si'r. The next day, Si'r receives a demerit after lashing out at the doctor, and is expelled after smashing a light bulb with a baseball bat as his father pleads to the principal. Si'r promises to pass his transfer exams to get into day school, which upsets Ming, who knows that this means she will see him less. Later, Sly emerges from hiding and apologizes to Si'r for their past antagonism, and reveals that Ming and Ma are dating. Upset, Si'r begins dating Jade, but he upsets her and she bitterly reveals to him that the girl he saw kissing Sly was Ming, not her.

After threatening Ma at the latter's home, an enraged and jealous Si'r steals Cat's knife and waits outside the school for Ma. Instead, he sees Ming, and berates her for her promiscuity, saying that only he and Honey had the ability to change her; she rejects this, saying that she cannot be changed and he is not special. He stabs her in a fit of rage and misery, then breaks down in crazed guilt. Si'r is arrested and held at the police station, where he screams for Ming. Si'r is sentenced to death, but the media controversy around the case provokes the sentence to be changed to 15 years imprisonment. The final scene is set in Si'r's house, now almost devoid of furniture. Si'r's mother is hanging up clothes to dry when she unexpectedly finds Si'r's school uniform. As she sobs into it, the radio starts to broadcast another list of distinguished students, mirroring the opening of the film.


  • Chang Chen as Xiao Si'r (Chang Chen, Xiao Si'r being a nickname that means "Little Four," or the fourth of five children.)
  • Chang Kuo-chu as Xiao Si'r's father
  • Elaine Jin as Xiao Si'r's mother
  • Lisa Yang as Ming
  • Wong Chi-zan as Cat (Wang Mao)
  • Lawrence Ko as Airplane
  • Tan Chih-kang as Ma
  • Lin Hong-ming as Honey
  • Hung-Yu Chen as Sly
  • Wang Chuan as Xiao Si'r's eldest sister
  • Chang Han as Lao Er (Elder brother)
  • Chiang Hsiu-chiung as Xiao Si'r's middle sister
  • Lai Fan-yun as Xiao Si'r's youngest sister


Set in early 1960s, in Taipei, the film is based on a real incident that the director remembers from his school days when he was 13.[4] The original Chinese title, 牯嶺街少年殺人事件, translates literally as "The Homicide Incident of the Youth on Guling Street", referring to the 14-year-old son of a civil servant who murders his girlfriend, who was also involved with a teenaged gang leader, for unclear reasons. The gang leader and girlfriend are involved in the conflict between gangs of children of formerly-mainland families and those of Taiwanese families. The film places the murder incident in the context of the political environment in Taiwan at that time. The film's political background is introduced in intertitles thus:

Millions of Mainland Chinese fled to Taiwan with the National Government after its civil war defeat by the Chinese Communists in 1949. Their children were brought up in an uneasy atmosphere created by the parents' own uncertainty about the future. Many formed street gangs to search for identity and to strengthen their sense of security.[5]

Chang Kuo-Chu, and his son Chang Chen (in his debut) are both cast in this film playing father and son.

Yang used the film Goodfellas as the model of a gangster movie.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received much critical acclaim and was awarded several wins in Golden Horse Film Festival, Asia Pacific Film Festival, Kinema Junpo Awards and Tokyo International Film Festival. Three different versions of the film were edited: the original 237 minute version, a three-hour version and a shorter 127 minute version.[4]

A Brighter Summer Day is ranked as the 121st most acclaimed film ever and the most acclaimed from 1991 on the review-compiling list They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?.[7] The film is currently in eleventh place on the Letterboxd Top 250 Movies list.[8] On Rotten Tomatoes, the films holds a perfect rating of 100% based on 20 reviews, with an average score of 9.40/10. The site's critics' consensus reads: "A fantastic cinematic and artistic achievement, Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day depicts youth, ideals, violence and politics in a melancholic, tender light, culminating in a complex portrait of Taiwanese identity."[9] A.O. Scott wrote in his 2011 review for The New York Times, "In every aspect of technique —from the smoky colors and the bustling, off-center compositions to the architecture of the story and the emotional precision of the performances — this film is a work of absolute mastery."


According to film critic Godfrey Cheshire, the film has "two faces, just as it has two titles" due to the sudden change of plots the film experiences halfway through its running time. A Brighter Summer Day notoriously shifts from a fraught, violent story about teenage gangs to a more introspective and family-oriented movie where the main character passively witness how his father is accused of espionage, his brother is in huge debt and his mother suffers in silence. Cheshire explains this transition of "faces" as it follows:

The “outward” face is a highly critical view of a society in which all proper authority—a very Confucian concern—has been eroded or undermined, so that a young man like Xiao Si’r can be hurled into the spiral of violence indicated by the film’s Chinese title, which translates as “The Youth Killing Incident on Guling Street,” referring to a notorious crime that inspired the film. The “inward” face, meanwhile, indicated by the lyrics of the 1960 Elvis Presley hit “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” which gives the film its English title, has little to do with Taiwan and much to do with a condition unbound by time or place: the loneliness, melancholy, and longing of adolescence.[10]

The film's story reflects divisions of nationality, culture, and age in Taiwan a decade after the island was occupied by the Nationalist Chinese government following the end of mainland China's civil war and the establishment of the Communist People's Republic of China. The young characters in the film are affected by the social dislocations caused by their families' exile, changes in traditional social values, the turmoil of young love and friendships, and the lack of a clear direction to a meaningful future. Gradually developing youth gangs, coming under the sponsorship of adult criminals, provide some degree of social acceptance. The adults in their lives, such as Si'r's father, are constricted by their own social status and jobs, the need for money, and unrewarding employment. Further context is seen in the ethnic and class tensions between Chinese, native Taiwanese, and Japanese residents of the island, as well as the cultural influence of the West, especially the United States.

Restoration and home media[edit]

In 2009, the World Cinema Foundation issued a restoration of A Brighter Summer Day, using the original 35mm camera and sound negatives provided by the Edward Yang Estate.[11]

On December 17, 2015, The Criterion Collection announced the official North American DVD and Blu-ray release of a new 4K digital restoration of the film in its original running time. This release marks the first time A Brighter Summer Day is released on home video in the United States, after more than two decades of obscurity due to difficulty in finding an official copy of the film. The release includes a new English subtitle translation, an audio commentary featuring critic Tony Rayns, an interview with actor Chang Chen; Our Time, Our Story, a 117-minute documentary from 2002 about the New Taiwan Cinema movement, featuring interviews with Yang and film-makers Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang, among others; a videotaped performance of director Edward Yang's 1992 play Likely Consequence; an essay by critic Godfrey Cheshire, and a 1991 director's statement by Yang.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Brighter Summer Day". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  2. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  3. ^ Chan, Andrew (March 24, 2016). "Talking with Screenwriter Hung Hung about A Brighter Summer Day". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved November 6, 2020.
  4. ^ a b GULING JIE SHAONIAN SHA REN SHIJIAN Review (in English) by Nick James
  5. ^ Anderson, John (2005). Edward Yang. ISBN 0-252-07236-7
  6. ^ Chan, Andrew. "Talking with Screenwriter Hung Hung About A Brighter Summer Day". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  7. ^ "The 1,000 Greatest Films (Full List)". They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?. 2020. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  8. ^ "The 'Official' Letterboxd Top 250 movies (updated weekly)". Letterboxd. Archived from the original on 2019-04-26. Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  9. ^ "A Brighter Summer Day (1991)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 9, 2020.
  10. ^ A Brighter Summer Day: Coming of Age in Taipei https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/3981-a-brighter-summer-day-coming-of-age-in-taipei
  11. ^ "World Cinema Project". The Film Foundation. The Film Foundation. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  12. ^ "A Brighter Summer Day (1991)". The Criterion Collection. The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 19 March 2016.

External links[edit]