4. “A Brighter Summer Day”, Edward Yang (1991)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.


A Brighter Summer Day aka 牯嶺街少年殺人事件 aka Gǔlǐng jiē shàonián shārén shìjiàn

dir. Edward Yang scr. Edward Yang, Hong-ya Yan, Ming-tang Lai, Shun-ching Yang cin. Hui-kung Chang and Long-yu Zhang with Chang Chen, Chang Kuo-chu, Elaine Jin, Lisa Yang, Wong Chizan, Lawrence Ko, Tan Zhigang, Lin Hung-ming, Wang Chuan, Chang Han, Chiang Hsiu-chiung, Stephanie Lai

In 100 words: The greatest triumph of  Yang’s short filmography is this tragic coming-of-age film drawn on an epic canvass. The novelistic script deftly juggles a lot of plotlines, motifs and themes: I loved its clear-eyed depiction of the tense post-war period in Taiwan and the confused identities of the kids and their families that lived during that dark age. Items hold enormous significance while images sustain awe and power. Even better is the breadth of details he imbues in characters as indelible as an Elvis-loving falsetto singer or a reformed gangster or a sad and hardened girlfriend just trying to survive. Perfection.

Other Movies for Context: If it wasn’t clear from the three movies he had here, Edward Yang is like a big fucking deal to me. This is his best and the best of an era. I think a lot of Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine which has a similar scale to this and even the intimacy that sometimes is lacking in films this long (4 hours!) or with this many characters.


79. “A City of Sadness”, Hou Hsiao-hsien (1989)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

A City of Sadness

A City of Sadness aka 悲情城市 aka bēiqíng chéngshì

dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien (1989) scr. Chu T’ien-wen and Wu Nien-jen cin. Chen Huai-en with Tony Leung, Sung Young Chen, Jack Kao, Li Tian-lu

In 100 words: Within a career that pushed the limits of patient, absorbing filmmaking, Sadness stands as Hou’s most coherent, most perfectly constructed, and most moving film. The film dwells on its silences, often punctuated by violence that ends as quietly as it began while its dusty palette evokes a broken world that lives up to the title. Hou’s careful geometric frames, and slow camera pans refuse to invade the characters’ spaces, which then lets the audience observe each shot like filmed theater. And the film’s story builds so quietly, that once we reach the end, we feel unexpectedly yet powerfully knocked out.

Other Movies for Context: God knows how much I love Hou Hsiao-hsien, even when his filmography feels uneven to me. There’s so much to glean from his patient long takes and unfussy mise en scene. A Time to Live and a Time to Die (1985) was a very good pre-Brighter Summer Day Taiwanese youth movie that lacked some of Hou’s trademark long takes. Dust in the Wind (1986) feels like the start of the Hou we know, with his Mark Lee Ping-bin partnership, but it felt less absorbing and more dull. The Puppetmaster (1993) feels like the nadir of Hou’s work, while Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996) is the other peak of his career. Millennium Mambo (2001) is my personal favorite from his work, while Three Times (2005) has the most magnificent 30 minutes of Hou’s career. I had little patience for The Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), but I had a bit more for The Assassin (2015).

84. “Yi Yi”, Edward Yang (2000)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Yi Yi 1

Yi Yi: A One and a Two aka 一一

dir. Edward Yang (2000) scr. Edward Yang cin. Wei-han Yang with Wu Nien-jen, Elaine Jin, Issey Ogata, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang

In 100 words: In Yi Yi, Yang captures something profound in the lives of a middle-class family going through crisis. The novelistic depth of the story is matched by Yang’s careful use of colors and mise en scéne to frame characters in relation to their environment, all in service of his characters’ feelings and emotions. Furthermore, Yang’s dialogue is a dream—observant, truthful, and richly detailed, characters are always reaching for something unattainable—whether an unrequited love, a lover from the past, or a sense of identity. Quietly, the film asks us to consider the drama in the mundane, profundity in everyday life.

Other Movies for Context: Yang’s magnificent filmography is full of riches. One has already appeared earlier, but two films particularly feel similar to the ennui that these characters feel here, and closer in tone to this: Taipei Story (1985) and A Confucian Confusion (1994), which both reveled with adults trying to solve some sort of midlife crisis. Yi Yi also feels influential on Ilo Ilo (2013) by Anthony Chen, a moving Singaporean movie that has a quietly observant but richly detailed script and a sensitive direction that wouldn’t be out of place in Yang’s oeuvre.

97. “The Terrorizers”, Edward Yang

Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

The Terrorizers

The Terrorizers aka 恐怖分子

dir. Edward Yang (1986) scr. Hsiao Yeh and Edward Yang cin. Chang Chan with Cora Miao, Lee Li-Chun, Wang An, Ma Shao-chun

In 100 words: Often cryptic and deeply unsettling, Terrorizers set the foundation for New Taiwanese Cinema’s exploration of ennui and disaffection in post-war Taiwan. Yang’s cynical vision of modern urban life in Taipei presents characters that are in one way or another, stuck in purgatory, who are then undone by a series of coincidences. By employing Bressonian edits, cinematography that captures a dreamlike plasticity, and Ozu-esque framing of space, Yang perfectly visualizes emotional violence and internal desperation succinctly without becoming completely abstract. The script’s amorphous structure yields uncomfortable surprises, but the startling conclusion may actually be that living is the most terrifying thing.

Other Movies for Context: Essayists have often compared Yang’s film to those of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s, particularly his London-set Blow-Up (1966), about a photographer who think he captured in pictures a murder in progress. But The Terrorizers is very important in Taiwanese film history for paving the way for Tsai Ming Liang and other Taiwanese directors who focus on Taiwanese urban life. Tsai’s Vive L’Amour (1994) and What Time Is It There? (2001) are the most direct films that reference Yang. A more distant, and uh cringe-inducing brother of this movie, will probably be Paul Haggis’s Crash (2005), but that’s cow poop compared to this.