A Sun

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A Sun
The family characters of the film, standing at a street, shone by sunrays from across the trees, each with different expressions.
Theatrical release poster
Traditional陽光普照
Simplified阳光普照
MandarinYángguāng pǔzhào
HokkienIông-kong-phó͘-chiàu
LiterallyShining on all things
Directed byChung Mong-hong
Written byChung Mong-hong
Chang Yao-sheng
Produced byYeh Ju-feng
Tseng Shao-chien
StarringChen Yi-wen
Samantha Ko
Wu Chien-ho
Liu Kuan-ting
CinematographyChung Mong-hong[a]
Edited byLai Hsiu-hsiung
Music byLin Sheng-xiang
Production
company
3 NG Film
Distributed byApplause Entertainment
Release dates
  • 6 September 2019 (2019-09-06) (Toronto)
  • 1 November 2019 (2019-11-01) (Taiwan)
  • 24 January 2020 (2020-01-24) (Netflix)
Running time
155 minutes
CountryTaiwan
LanguagesTaiwanese Mandarin
Taiwanese Hokkien
BudgetNT$44 million
Box officeNT$20 million

A Sun (Chinese: 陽光普照) is a 2019 Taiwanese drama film directed and co-written by Chung Mong-hong. The film stars Chen Yi-wen, Samantha Ko, Wu Chien-ho, Greg Hsu, and Liu Kuan-ting as the ensemble. The story centres upon Chen Jian Ho (Wu), an arrested troubled teenager, and Hao (Hsu), Ho's accomplished brother who commits suicide due to familial pressure. It then depicts Ho's re-entry into society, as well as his father Wen's (Chen) efforts to acknowledge his son, something he had never done. Effects of juvenile delinquency and suicide are the main themes of the film, with various visual motifs throughout, including light and dark. The film contains many conventions of Asian cinema, and also explores socioeconomic inequality in Taiwan.

The film was conceived after a high school friend told Chung of a crime he committed as a teenager; this soon became the opening sequence, which prefaces the succeeding narrative. Chang Yao-sheng was then enlisted to co-write the screenplay with Chung, a process which took over a year. Filming was undertaken in 2018, with a tight schedule of 38 days on financial grounds. Chung advised the cast not to consult him on their acting styles and instead asked them to rehearse on their own, though he would often direct them during filming. Chung also served as the cinematographer for the film under the pseudonym Nagao Nakashima, employing various techniques to depict the film's ambivalent tone. Lai Hsiu-hsiung edited the film, while Lin Sheng-xiang composed the score.

A Sun premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on 6 September 2019, before being released theatrically in Taiwan. It underperformed financially, as did Chung's previous films. It was then released on Netflix in 2020; however, due to poor marketing, it did not receive significant attention, though it was aided by Peter Debruge of Variety when he called it the best film of 2020. The film received many positive reviews for its story, diversity of themes, audiovisual quality, and acting. It received multiple accolades, including 11 nominations at the 56th Golden Horse Awards, out of which it won Best Feature Film and Best Director for Chung. It was also selected as the Taiwanese entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, where it made the shortlist of 15 films.

Plot[edit]

In 2013 Taipei, troubled teenager Chen Jian-ho and his friend Radish approaches a young man named Oden at a restaurant; unbeknown to Ho, Radish chops off Oden's hand with a machete. Ho is sentenced to juvenile detention, while Radish is given a harsher sentence. Ho's father Wen disowns him, though his wife Qin continues to visit his son while in prison. Wen instead focuses on Ho's shy older brother Hao, who is studying at a cram school for medical school. Wen is continually pestered at his driving instructor job by Oden's father for money, but he refuses to pay, claiming no legal responsibility as his son did not injure Oden.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Wang Ming-yu and her guardian aunt Yin meets Qin as she is pregnant with Ho's child. Although Qin supports her throughout her pregnancy, Ho is never informed on this. Hao later does, and Ho rages on the longtime secrecy. That night, Hao commits suicide by jumping from the apartment balcony. Guo Xiao-zhen, Hao's romantic interest, informs Qin that Hao had sent her a text, explaining that he is overwhelmed by all the attention on him, having nowhere to hide from all the scrutiny. Ho and Yu marry, and when he is released a year and a half later, Wen continues to ignore him. Ho takes a job at a car wash to support his family. One night, Wen, tormented by visions of his deceased son, goes out to buy cigarettes. He encounters Ho at the convenience store, unaware that he had taken a night shift there; they speak briefly about Hao and appear to reconcile.

Three years later, Ho is approached by the recently-released Radish who asks him for money, but he rejects. Radish later picks him up amid work, telling him to fire a gun at a legislator's office; Ho grudgingly does so. Wen is alarmed with Radish's presence as Ho's nemesis and confronts him, offering to pay him to stay away from his son, though Radish dismisses him. Radish again visits Ho late at night at the car wash, coercing him into borrowing a client's car and going for a drive. They stop amid a forested highway, where Radish instructs Ho to enter a park and approach a group of men inside to deliver a package; he is paid a large sum of money. However when he returns, Radish is missing, and he flees in unsettlement.

Sometime later, a group of thugs kidnap Ho and demand the money, explaining that Radish was found dead and disordered. After Ho gives them the money, they beat him and drop him off on an overpass, the sum of a substantial "delivery fee" for his trouble. Meanwhile, atop Qixing Mountain,[1] Wen tells Qin that he had been skipping work to tail Ho and Radish. He witnessed their late-night drive; once Ho left to get the money, Wen crashed Radish, dragged him to the forest, and killed him with a rock. As Qin reacts in agony, Wen explains that this was the best way he could think of to help his only remaining son.

Sometime later, Ho and his mother bond over a stack of old notebooks that Wen had gifted to Hao at medical school, each titled with Wen's motto "Seize the day, decide your path",[b] all of which are empty. They then share a tandem bike ride through a park; the ambivalent Qin gazes at the surrounding sceneries.

Cast[edit]

Supporting cast
Ivy Yin being interviewed at an award ceremony
Wen Chen-ling holding an LGBT flag outdoors
Ivy Yin (left, pictured 2008) portrays Yin, the aunt guardian of Wang Ming-yu, while Wen Chen-ling (right, pictured 2016) portrays Guo Xiao-zhen, Chen Jian-hao's romantic interest
  • Chen Yi-wen as Wen (文), the father of Chen Jian-ho and Hao, as well as the husband of Qin. He works as a driving instructor; the school he works at has the slogan "Seize the day, decide your path", which he uses as a moral principle.
  • Samantha Ko as Qin (琴姐), the mother of Ho and Hao, as well as the wife of Wen. She is the owner and a hairdresser for her salon; midway through the film, she relocates it.
  • Wu Chien-ho as Chen Jian-ho (陳建和), a son of Wen and Qi, as well as the younger brother of Hao. He, alongside Radish, is imprisoned on grounds of assault, though is given a lighter sentence. He also impregnates Xiao Yu, with whom he marries before being released. He later works as both a car washer and a cashier to support his family.
  • Greg Hsu as Chen Jian-hao (陳建豪), another son of Wen and Qi, as well as the elder brother of Ho. He is the more accomplished and mannered son, and is studying to prepare for medical school. Because of the heavy, uninterrupted burden placed upon him, he gradually becomes depressed and commits suicide one night.
  • Liu Kuan-ting as Radish, the peer commanding Ho to follow him as he performs the assault. After his release, he becomes Ho's nemesis, offering him criminal jobs in exchange for money which can help with Ho's patriarchal duty. His Chinese name is Cai Tou (菜頭).
  • Apple Wu as Wang Ming-yu (王明玉), a 15-year-old student in ninth grade whom Ho impregnated. She is supported by Qin throughout her pregnancy, and is employed as a hairdresser. She is colloquially referred to as Xiao Yu.
  • Wen Chen-ling as Guo Xiao-zhen (郭曉貞), a classmate and romantic interest of Hao who notices his gradual descent to depression, and who received a suicide text from Hao poeticizing his depression.
  • Ivy Yin as Yin (姐), Yu's aunt who rescued her from a bus which burned at a highway in 2003.

Production[edit]

Background and pre-production[edit]

With a painful howl, a hand is slashed off by the wrist. The hand drops into a pot of boiling soup. The wrist hangs lonely at the side of the pot. The victim is screaming. The wound is bleeding like a running tap. Blood is spraying all over the place. A-[H]o stands staring at everything in front of him. It happens too fast for him to react. He never imagined that a confrontation would end this way. He doesn’t even know that his troubles are just emerging. Many more disasters are waiting for him ahead.

— Chung Mong-hong, opening of the screenplay of A Sun, which would preface the succeeding events within the film

Director Chung Mong-hong conceived A Sun when he met his once-troubled high school friend, who told him about how he and his friend had cut off someone's hand in his youth, which for some time affected him psychologically. Later while having dinner with his friends and family, he robustly visualized a hand boiling in a hot pot, which drove him to write the film. After writing the opening sequence, Chung began to think about suicide, a common occurrence in Taiwan, as well as the familial and social effects that suicides and juvenile delinquency usually cause. The family members were given a very traditional upbringing to drive the story further.[2] Although no other films served as creative inspirations, he later found that the plot is reminiscent of Fargo (1966), which begins with a light scene followed by a lingering chaos.[3] The film's sentimentalism is equated to substance intoxication: as time passes, the effects will turn from ecstasy to illusion. With making A Sun, Chung also aimed to explore the unknown within the story's themes.[4]

Chung wanted another person to write the screenplay, but struggles in finding a good one, which he deems to be rare. He deemed Chang Yao-sheng perfect, described as collaborative and analytical;[5] his style is also novelistic in lieu of the traditional screenplay format. Chung said this helped him and others understand the kind of feelings he wanted to evoke.[3] He admired Chang's style, opining that he is more creative when writing stories.[5] Earlier, he had finished the screenplay in 40 days, but it only consisted of the core elements of the film.[3] The collaborative nature of the making of A Sun is new to Chung, who had worked the most for his previous films; he described those films as worse, and that A Sun is more stylistically diverse. As co-writer of the screenplay, Chung struggled to create character developments, as he wanted everyone in the story to have some kind of involvement in driving the story, arguing that that is what gives the characters "life."[5] Additionally, Chang researched various resources on juvenile delinquency and interviewed a former juvenile delinquent to ensure a realistic depiction.[6] Overall, one year was spent on writing.[7]

For casting the film's ensemble, Chung wanted the adult characters to be around his age, with the family consisting of four people. Chen Yi-wen was the first to be selected, specifically portraying Wen. Having collaborated together in Godspeed (2016), Chung believed that Chen could portray Wen, which he described as unsuccessful and "a useless father." Chen was described as "fun" and unique stylistically.[2] He equated the father's mind–body dualism with sunshine and shadow: two different things, though of one part.[4] Greg Hsu met Chung twice before being affirmed as the right actor for Hao, noting his communicatory awkwardness.[2] Wu Jian-he, preparing for his role as Ho, talked with teenagers who had been imprisoned at least six or seven months prior, giving a glimpse into the merciless mood of prisons.[8] Chung did not try establish a deep relationship with the cast nor were there group preparations; he simply asked them to bring the screenplay home and learn their characters, then come on set to portray it. Chung largely credited this to his lack of knowledge in acting.[5]

Investors included Chung's 3 NG Film (also production company), MandarinVision, Eight Eight Nine Films, MirrorFiction and UNI Connect Broadcast Production. The Ministry of Culture supported the production, while Chung’s frequent collaborator Yeh Ju-feng and his wife Tseng Shao-Chien served as producers.[7] Yeh specifically found the last two lines of the screenplay to be memorable; it translates to: "Ah-Ho rides his mother on a bicycle, and the sun dazzlingly shines in the fallen leaves, bit by bit."[c][4]

Filming[edit]

Principal photography of A Sun began in September 2018, and occurred over the course of 38 days, considered a tight schedule knowing that the film's runtime is 155 minutes. Chung credited the schedule to the lack popularity on his films among the Taiwanese filmgoers. In addition, the financing part of production was not completed amid filming, a recurring problem within the production of Chung's films.[7] Eventually, the team settled a budget of NT$ 44 million (US$1,500,000 as of 2018).[9] Despite eagerness to use film stock, Chung decided to use digitally film A Sun instead, emphasizing that the warmth of a film (a common characterization of film stocks) is not solely judged on the medium, but rather the production collaboration.[1]

The latter part of the opening sequence was shot on the first day; it was the most lighthearted day for Chung, who recalled laughing at the hand model in the soup. Actual gangsters in the area also acted as extras.[3] However, the opening shots of Ho and Radish riding a motorcycle occurred in July amid Typhoon Maria. Filming it required the immediate call for the production team to rush to Civic Boulevard. Though Chung was satisfied by the windy rain, he immediately told actors Wu and Liu Kuan-ting to stop driving as the camera stops filming.[1][4] During a scene where Ho gets beaten up by fellow inmates, the production team did not want Wu to be injured and the fellow inmates' cast were told to lighten their actions, though Wu insisted on a realistic fight.[8]

Atop a mountain on a sunny day, a man hugs his wife as the wife cries hopelessly
Majority of the film, including the scene where Wen confesses his murder of Radish to Qin, is deliberately filmed during daylight. Blue represents sorrow, while the yellow sunlight represents warmth. Initially, Chung had wanted Qin to be more restrained on her reaction, not wanting the film to be melodramatic (e.g. crying, as seen here), but realized that it could not be avoided.

Because of the film's motif of the Sun, weather forecast largely determined the schedule; oftentimes this meant changing the scheduled time just to be able to film scenes in daylight. The Qixing Mountain scene was achievable by waiting throughout the filming days, until one day when multiple forecasts could confirm absolute daylight.[7] Blue and yellow were chosen as the main colors tones: blue represents sorrow and apathy, while yellow represents warmth. The final shot of the film featuring the Sun superimposed by leaves was tricky to film despite being a common sight when driving.[3] The mountain scene had deliberate use of backlighting employing sunlight, often blocking it to evoke a dualistic sense within the scene.[1] Chung had initially debated if Hao's death should be depicted directly, however felt that the scene where Hao exits and the camera looks into the opposing wall as his shadow enlarges as an effective metaphor on death.[10]

Throughout filming, Chung recalled feeling tempered due to lack of confidence that the film would work: though A Sun is a melodrama, he was more used to art films, and he often struggled to find a balance between the two. For the mountain scene, he originally wanted the mood to be more cooled and restrained, however later understood that often melodramatic elements are inevitable. He would often scold the cast and crew, much to their displease; it was during editing that he considered each scenes to be effective and well-executed.[5] Dark humor also has its moments in the film: when a septic tank is brought by Oden's father who rages at Wen not wanting to pay for Oden's hospital fee, the feces are sprayed from what seems like a proton pack from the Ghostbusters franchise.[10] These kinds of humors are an unintentional reoccurrence in Chung's previous films as well.[5]

Like his other films, A Sun was cinematographed by Chung himself, albeit being credited as Nagao Nakashima. He stated that this film's production is more eased in regards to his role as director-cinematographer. He also came to think of the camera as "a very powerful tool through which" he can analyse the cast's every move, thus being able to play the director's role of judging the cast too, as well as a visual form of emotion.[7] The cast would often be interrupted whenever Chung felt their performances were not enough, which occasionally disturbed the sound mixers. However, he considers cinematography as a mere tool to depict the scope of a scene, in lieu of extraneous aesthetics.[5] He said: "As long as the lighting and colors are right, the atmosphere will pop out as the actors step in." Despite the pressure put on the cast, he also allowed for fluidity.[4] Raising Arizona (1987), Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), and Lost Highway (1997) are noted to be references.[10] The cinematography of Last Tango in Paris (1972) was also said to be inspiration. Chung would keep the camera recording until his vision was achieved, a technique he had implemented ever since his early career filming car commercials.[5]

Post-production[edit]

A Sun was edited by Lai Hsiu-hsiung, who had previously collaborated with Chung in Godspeed, The Great Buddha+, and Xiao Mei (2018).[11] With a running time of 155 minutes, A Sun marks Chung's longest film by far. The production team unanimously agreed that it is the right running time for the film.[1] Sound mixer Tu Duu-chih, known for his work in Millennium Mambo (2001),[12] initially proposed trimming it, though others argued that all scenes in the final cut are vital to the evocations of emotions important to be depicted in the film.[1]

In the film, Hao tells a darker version of a real fable of Sima Guang, meant to inspire youth. In Hao's version, Sima Guang and several children are playing hide-and-seek, but when everyone is caught, he still insists that one person is still missing. They reach a water tank and shatter it open, revealing another Sima Guang, hiding in the darkness.[13] Upon review, Chung felt like this scene needs animation for a more effective evocation. Three-dimensional computer animation was lacking in Taiwan, and he did not want to ruin the scene's emotion. Thus, he chose to commission a Taiwanese hand-drawn animator with a specific style. After presenting him a rough cut, the animator collaborated with Chung to give the one-minute scene "the feeling of an ambiguous personal pursuit."[3]

Music[edit]

The 17-track[14] film score was composed by Lin Sheng-xiang, who also composed the score for Chung's other film, The Great Buddha+ (2017).[15] In early 2018, Chung described to him the opening sequence. Upon filming, he told Lin to write the music for the funeral scene, and perform it live while filming. He gathered bassist Toru Hayakawa and harmonicist Toru Fujii to perform four versions of the composition at a rented studio in Taipei, then perform one live at the funeral home the next morning. However upon editing, the full scene was cut and only select montages were used, backgrounded by the music.[4]

For the composition of A Sun's score, Lin studied classical music as well as slide guitar; the latter he implemented by cutting stainless steel pipes. His main philosophy was: "Let the music follow the characters and the story, and as soon as you hear the music, it can evoke feelings towards the film."[d] Sadness is given a touch of grace, and Lin tried not to evoke boredom or sensationalism.[4] He considered the score to be an "invisible cast", a major role in amplifying the characters' emotions. The dualism within the film is also used as inspiration. Various musical and cultural backgrounds also help diversify the tones of the score. In addition, he collaborated with musicians from Taiwan, as well as two audio engineers from Taiwan (Zen Chien) and Germany (Wolfgang Obrecht) which he considered outstanding.[16][17]

Each of the family member also get their own theme music, renditioned in various styles to depict the fickleness of the film's plot development.[16] Hao's theme is renditioned four times; one version, titled "動物園" ("The Zoo"), utilizes French horn to evoke warmth. Ho's theme was derived from "縣道184" ("Country Road 184"), a song in the album 菊花夜行軍 (The Night March of the Chrysanthemums), with the chords and rhythm rearranged. Wen's theme, titled "把握時間 掌握方向" ("Seize the Day, Decide Your Path") is renditioned thrice, respectively numbered. Lin was inspired to write the composition after seeing onsite the scene where Wen awakes after a nightmare of Hao. An organ and guitar were used.[4] Other instruments used include a yueqin, double bass, violin, viola, and synthesizers.[16]

In addition "花心" ("Flowery heart"), a song by Wakin Chau, is sung by Ho's fellow inmates prior to being released from prison.[18] The end credits song, "遠行" ("Distant Journey") is a lyricized version of Hao's theme music. The lyrics tell the story of a person who "wanted to be the most distant star"; after venting to an acquaintance, he pointed at the night sky, and surrendered his life to space. The soundtrack album was released on 25 October 2019 on compact disc, with the catalog number FHFCD190915,[19] then on 29 October digitally.[14] Its producer and publisher was Foothills Folk, while its distributor was Feeling Good Music.[20]

Track listing for A Sun (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
No.TitleLength
1."他坐在哪裡" ("Where's He Sitting?")2:21
2."阿和進去了" ("A-Ho in Jail")2:33
3."這樣對大家都好 鋼琴版" ("It's Good for Everybody (Piano Version)")2:33
4."關我什麼事?" ("What's That to Do with Me?")2:57
5."三鞠躬" ("Three Bows")3:03
6."動物園" ("The Zoo")3:27
7."太陽" ("The Sun")2:09
8."這樣對大家都好 吉他絃樂版" ("It's Good for Everybody (Guitar & String Version)")1:39
9."把握時間 掌握方向 1" ("Seize the Day, Decide Your Path 1")2:21
10."把握時間 掌握方向 2" ("Seize the Day, Decide Your Path 2")3:09
11."你車上有煙灰缸嗎?" ("Does Your Car Have an Ashtray?")3:23
12."把握時間 掌握方向 3" ("Seize the Day, Decide Your Path 3")2:35
13."算我欠你的" ("Let's Say I Owe You")4:54
14."滿口袋的錢" ("A Pocket Full of Money")2:13
15."我只是一個駕訓班教練" ("I'm Only a Driving Instructor")3:13
16."陳教練你有幾個小孩?" ("Instructor Chen, How Many Children Do You Have?")2:00
17."遠行" ("Distant Journey")5:18
Total length:49:48

Title[edit]

The film's title in serif, colored dark-red
For Netflix, A Sun is typed in serif; there is also another version using a reminiscent sans-serif typeface[21]

The original, traditional Chinese title of the film is 陽光普照 (Pinyin: Yángguāng pǔzhào), meaning "Shining on all things". This is taken from the last fragment of the last sentence in Hao's suicide text, which reads: "I [...] wished [...] that I could hide in the shade. [...] But I could not. I had no water tanks, no shades, just sunlight. 24 hours uninterrupted, radiant and warm, shining on all things."[e][13] Furthermore, Chung had always wanted a film of his to be composed of four characters with positive connotations, albeit ironic when put into context.[8]

Sometime in 2019, academic and filmmaker Jerry Carlson interviewed Chung, who mentioned the film. Prior, Chung had already thought of its English title as A Sun, though was unsure as the Solar System only has one sun. After hearing about the film's story, Carlson approved of the title despite the obvious grammatical error. Chung came to realize that the universe consists of more than one sun. He is also aware of the homonym between "A Sun" and "A son"; in the film, Wen lies to others that he only has one son (Hao), as he disowned Ho. Wen also lives in the self-delusion that he is fulfilling his motto of "Seize the day, decide your path"; the effects of such lies are also what Chung wanted to cover in A Sun.[3]

Thematic analysis[edit]

Chung stated that his intention with A Sun was to explore said familial and social effects caused by juvenile imprisonment and suicide. The film, he said, is not of joy, but rather of reflection upon family, society, and the hardships within life.[2]

The motifs of light and dark are frequently discussed by publications. Chung says that the Sun symbolizes hope.[2] It is seen that the love within the film's family are like sunshine, but then there are shadows—that is, personal secrecy and a lack of space to open up; as Chung said, "We have all been hurt, so much so that we can be each others' Sun."[f] Family is not depicted as a utopia, but rather a place where everyone shares the same values and intentions, equated to a shade amid a sunlit expanse.[22] Wen's mind–body dualism is later symbolized as Wen and Qin hike Qixing Mountain, traversing light and dark.[4] The film's wholesome scenes are said to mostly appear as sunlight appears, but becomes generally absent as shadow and bad weather approaches.[1] Because Hao personifies the everyday pressure on him with the Sun, during Wen's confession scene, Wen is placed behind the Sun to symbolize the pressure of truth on him, while Qin is placed facing the Sun as she slowly learns the truth. It is interpreted that the confession occurs amid nature to symbolize the natural pressure Wen placed on himself, while Hao's suicide text scene is intercut with shots of him amid urbanity to symbolize the social pressure on him.[23]

Chung also challenges the idea that parents have unconditional love for their children, arguing that children instead need understanding aided with love. The family is described as the epitome of many strict, traditional parents.[4] Wen is a central figure, with him treating the characters a certain way and the characters reflecting their emotions upon him. Wen continues ignoring Ho upon Ho's release, which Chung considered ironic considering they are bonded by consanguinity. In light of such disconnections, understanding is another theme touched upon on the film.[2][3][10] The film's premise of a son who is under constant comparison with a golden child has been compared with Waves (2019) and Ordinary People (1980).[24] A Sun is also seen as an semi-criticism of a society largely controlled by patriarchal rights: fathers like Wen can easily neglect their children without healthy communication with each other, though Wen's murder of Radish is a culmination of his patriarchal ego that is deemed heroic.[25] Using cultural discourse analysis, this as well as Hao's suicide is seen as a conflict between personal agency and futility.[23] Wen is also described as ignorant and mean on the surface, but has good intentions and is confused on how to effectuate them.[23]

The film also defies the employment of absolutist characterizations. Chung himself stressed that there is no binary characterization in them: personalities shift periodically.[1] Sylvia Cheng of Elle said that no characters in the film can be directly attributed to the conflicts, opining that "every family is riddled with holes" and that "life is a process of constant mistakes".[22] In the final scene, Qin gazes at the sunny sceneries with a slightly joyful face, though is still tormented by the effects of what happened to her two sons.[5] When analyzing using structuralism, Hao can be seen as a manifestation of good, and Radish a manifestation of evil. However structuralism is criticized as unrealistic, so by using a post-structuralist analysis, these two characters are seen as merely a form of moral message to Ho. Hao and Radish die because of their unrealistic nature; this would help shape Ho's identity as the realistic mix of both good and evil.[26] There is a certain amount of good in Radish, and his background justifies his actions, though audiences might consider him evil due to what is mainly seen from him.[5]

An forested old house, with a slogan attacked to the back
An example of a Taiwanese slogan. Taiwan is known for its heavy use of slogans, sometimes used as a moral principle; this is depicted in the film via the character of Wen.

Wen's attachment with the slogan "Seize your day, decide your path" is a real Taiwanese phenomenon that originated in the 1960s. In the film, like some Taiwanese people, Wen considers it his moral principle that he continuously repeats, despite his self not reflecting the people the slogan represents. His decision to murder Radish is a culmination of his abdication towards the slogan, one that might be considered immoral, but Wen will never consider such. Thus, Patrick Brzeksi of The Hollywood Reporter considers the moral of the film as: "life also is too complicated to live under the harsh light of moral purity." Moral ambiguity is promoted in the last scene of the film, where Ho steals a bike and Qin, despite some hesitation reminiscent of moral panic, decides to just go along. According to Chung, certain morals can be violated as long as no one is affected in the process.[3]

Socioeconomic inequality in Taiwan is also covered in A Sun. Wen's motto of "Seize the day, decide your path" does not reflect his life, and after being released from prison, Ho works in a car wash, while Radish resorts to gang crimes amid the backdrop of poverty. However, Hioe says that the film's coverage on this subject is light, in lieu of The Great Buddha+ as well as The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful (2017).[27] The film is also seen as a criticisms of Taiwanese judicial system: the prison that Ho is sent to does not offer any kind of correctional education, as the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education have never taken it into account. There s an irony that Radish was the one injuring Oden, but Wen is the one told to pay for the hospital bill. Wen's boss was also praised for recognizing his legal responsibility to oversee his workers' well-being The film also stressed to cruciality of social support systems and the awareness of responsibilities.[18]

In regards to the film's style, Chung called A Sun a humanistic film.[4] Brian Hioe of No Man is an Island noted that the film's genre of crime drama is common within Taiwanese cinema following the 2014 Taipei Metro attack, whose chronology has similarities to the opening sequence of A Sun.[27] Filmmaker Ang Lee also found a Buddhist-style of spirituality in A Sun, which prompts an interpretation that in the plot, the destinies of each characters have been set from the start, as if their fates are determined by each of their inciting actions, a theme commonly found in Asian cinema.[5] The film's existential themes are also noted, exemplified the shots of the lonely characters, backdropped by wide sceneries.[4] When Radish is released, he dyes his hair orange, which is said to symbolize evilness and resentment.[4]

Release[edit]

A Sun held its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on 6 September 2019,[28] before its Asian premiere at the 2019 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival on 3 October.[29] It was then screened at the 24th Busan International Film Festival on 7 October.[30] Succeeding festivals include the Tokyo International Film Festival and the 56th Taiwanese Golden Horse Film Festival on 13 October.[31] The 2019 Singapore International Film Festival screened it on 25 and 27 November.[32] Its American premiere was held at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on 6 January 2020.[33] Meanwhile, the film had its Taiwanese theatrical exhibition beginning 1 November 2019, and ending 1 December.[34] As distributor, Applause Entertainment released three trailers: one is a teaser featuring dialogue-less montage, while another is a trimmed version of the first.[35]

On Netflix[edit]

Since the 1980s, Taiwanese films haven’t received a lot of international attention. Many recent directors perhaps were not as creative or artistic as Edward Yang or Hou Hsiao-hsien. A lot of the films emerging from Taiwan today aren’t much like the New Taiwanese Cinema. [...] A Sun was distributed to the whole world because of Netflix. It happens naturally in this changing world. I didn’t necessarily expect that the film would receive more attention on Netflix; I only thought it would be available to more people globally.

—Chung on the film's poor marketing from Netflix

In late 2019, Netflix acquired the rights to A Sun, and released it as a Netflix original film on 24 January 2020.[36] However, poor marketing caused the film to not gain the expected amount of critical and general coverage;[3] David Ehrlich of IndieWire wrote that the film is "buried" within Netflix's catalog.[37] Another IndieWire writer, Tom Brueggemann, credited this to the overload of new titles in the platform, causing a failure to process each of them.[36] Upon the film being Taiwan's Academy Award for Best International Feature Film entry at the 93rd Academy Awards, Netflix released two trailers on YouTube, however this is only used for press embeds and is unlisted, meaning only people with access to the link can view it.[38]

However, the film later garnered some attention with the help of American critic Peter Debruge, who published a Variety listicle deeming it the best film of 2020. A niche following was soon observed.[36][39] Chung commented that with the acquisition, he did not expect the film to boom in popularity, merely for it to be accessible globally. He deemed this crucial, due to the fading access towards Taiwanese cinema since the 1980s.[3] However, he further expressed positivity regarding Deburge's listicle, and called it "an encouragement for Taiwanese filmmakers, and even for Taiwan herself", noting however since the contemporary popularity of Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang films, Taiwanese cinema became rarely discussed due to the ever-changing nature of the industry, particularly the Taiwanese condition. A sentiment was still expressed, however, that major publications like The New York Times and The Guardian do not review the film.[10]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

According to data from the Taiwan Film Institute between 4 and 10 November, approximately during its opening week, A Sun played in 44 theaters in Taiwan, grossing $4,550,861 with 19,172 tickets sold. It was a 38.11% increase the earnings of 1 to 3 November.[40] Over the next six days, two theaters stopped exhibition; the film further grossed $3,258,810 with 13,686 tickets sold, a 28.61% decrease.[41] The following week, it earned $14,157,606, with 59,687 tickets sold, indicating a 5.40% drop.[42] In its final week, eight theaters began exhibiting the film, causing a 122.79% increase in earnings: $6,806,407 with 28,844 tickets sold. Overall, A Sun grossed $20,964,013 with 88,531 tickets sold, making it a box-office bomb.[34]

Chung's previous films had also been bombs, opining that the average Taiwanese filmgoers are not fond of his films, though his wife encouraged him to make films for the sake of it and not just to satisfy the box office. He further reinforced the thought that his films are meant for a specific niche group, and that these groups appreciating the film is more than enough.[10] He expressed the ambition to keep on making films that will attract further audiences until he no longer wants to pursue filmmaking.[4] Wang Zu-peng of The News Lens opined that audiences should have given Chung "less alienation and more affection", allowing the poetry film to patiently engross them into the story.[1]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes deemed A Sun generally well-received, with a 94% approval rating based on 18 critics, many of whom called it among, or even the, best film of 2019/2020.[21] Tony Rayns, writing for Sight & Sound, called it "the most impressive film of recent times",[43] and Debruge called it "a world-cinema stunner" built on mastery.[24]

Many critics came to enjoy the film's treatment of its themes. The good and the evil are given balanced coverage,[43] and the variety of subgenres, including crime, drama, and comedy are found to coalesce smoothly, allowing for good pacing and compelling narrative, making the film "a riveting moral odyssey", as written by David Ehrlich of IndieWire. The story was also praised for its organic flow and richness in nuance, with A-Hao's suicide sequence compared to the films of Lee Chang-dong.[44] Many have also highlighted the violent opening sequence, compared to the works of Quentin Tarantino, providing a preface to the film's spectrum of emotions.[24][10] Its nature motifs[45] and slight emotional ambiguity were also praised. Chung's style has been compared to those of Edward Yang,[43][46][44][47] Ang Lee,[24] Hirokazu Kore-eda, Barry Jenkins, and Lulu Wang;[48] the film was also compared with Yang's A Brighter Summer Day (1991) and Yi Yi (2000),[43][44] and many opined that A Sun makes Chung a possible successor for the New Taiwanese Cinema.[47][24][48] The camera framing, which attempts to give the characters a sense of disconnection from the surrounding environment, is compared to the films of Michael Haneke.[44]

The cast performances are widely praised for their embodiment of the characters they portray, further uplifting the film's emotional weight.[44][47][49] Pramit Chatterjee of Mashable praised Wu's performance as "heavy" and Hsu's as impacting.[50] Chen's performance is also said to add more depth into his short-tempered character,[47][51] depicting his ambivalent personality accurately. Liu's performance gives Radish's character a distinct menacing impression.[5] Ko is said to add to the kindness strength of Qin's character, with Kevin L. Lee of Film Inquirer equating her to Regina King's performance as a mother in If Beale Street Could Talk (2018).[48] The female cast are also praised for their uniqueness.[43] Additionally, the remaining supporting cast were praised as equally as the ensemble,[47][50] with Liu said to successfully portray the manipulative Radish.[45]

Accolades[edit]

List of accolades received by A Sun
Year Award ceremony Category Recipient Result Ref.
2019 56th Golden Horse Awards Best Feature Film A Sun Won [52][53]
Best Director Chung Mong-hong Won
Best Leading Actor Wu Chien-ho Nominated
Chen Yi-wen Won
Best Leading Actress Samantha Ko Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Liu Kuan-ting Won
Best Supporting Actress Wen Chen-ling Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Chung Mong-hong
Chang Yao-sheng
Nominated
Best Cinematography Nagao Nakashima Nominated
Best Original Film Song "Distant Journey" Nominated
Best Film Editing Lai Hsiu-hsiung Won
Audience Choice Award A Sun Won
2020 14th Asian Film Awards Best Film Nominated [54]
Best Director Chung Mong-hong Nominated
Best Actor Chen Yi-wen Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Liu Kuan-ting Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Samantha Ko Won
Best Screenplay Chung Mong-hong
Chang Yao-sheng
Nominated
Best Editing Lai Hsiu-hsiung Nominated
2021 Houston Film Critics Society Awards 2020 Best Foreign Language Film A Sun Won [55]
25th Satellite Awards Best Foreign Language Film Nominated [56]
93rd Academy Awards Best International Feature Film Shortlisted [57]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Credited as his pseudonym Nagao Nakashima
  2. ^ Chinese: "把握時間 掌握方向"
  3. ^ Chinese: "阿和騎腳踏車載著媽媽,陽光一片一片灑進落葉裡,燦爛奪目。"
  4. ^ Chinese: "讓音樂跟著人物,隨著故事反覆出現,只要一聽到音樂,可以召喚你對這部電影的感覺,那就是我想要達到的。"
  5. ^ Chinese: 我 [...] 希望 [...] 有一些阴影可以躲起来。[...] 可是我没有。我没有水缸,没有暗处,只有阳光。24小时从不间断,明亮温暖,阳光普照。
  6. ^ Chinese: "我們都曾受過傷,才能成為彼此的太陽。"

References[edit]

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External links[edit]