Eternal Summer review

Contributor; Antwerp, Belgium
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Eternal Summer review
Another one of these down-tempo Taiwanese dramas? In a sense, but one that quite openly deals with male homosexuality. A subject still prone to shock in some parts of our world. Apart from that, Eternal Summer simply proves to be among the best of its peers, enough reason to put it in the spotlight.

Leste Chen started out with Heirloom, a stylish and atmopsheric horror flick that didn't revolve around gore or scares. Such films are pretty hard to market so it wasn't too surprising his first didn't land him much success. Eternal Summer is a very different film and reaches out to a more typical Taiwanese arthouse crowd. Much easier to sell and so the praise he received for it was accordingly. The world isn't fair, nothing much you can do about that.

Even though Eternal Summer is considered gay-themed, it's actually a bit more complex than that. Central to the story are three characters who form a perfect love triangle. Carrie loves Jonathan who quickly discovers his heart lies elsewhere. He is secretly in love with his best pal Shane, while Shane is slowly falling for the charms of Carrie. Enough romantic troubles for a solid 90 minutes of film.

The plot thickens as the relationships between the three become more complex. Plenty of opportunities for melodrama and epic emotions, but Chen keeps everything under control, maintaining a somewhat lighter atmosphere and playing down some of the more emotional scenes. Not as drastic as seen in Japanese cinema, but it's nice to see these themes handled without 90 minutes of aching sobs and puppy eyes.

Chen is obviously raised on Taiwanese aesthetics. Even though his visual style is more colorful and a tad more stylized, some very typical Taiwanese elements surface in this film. Mainly the day scenes in nature, combining vivid blues and greens, will appear very familiar to fans of Taiwanese cinema. Visually Eternal Summer is a little more varied though, sporting some truly stunning shots and scenes with strong singular colors. Not the major leap in style that some others made, but good progression nonetheless.

The soundtrack brings a similar experience. Mostly subdued piano music weaving a nice setting but feeling just a little too familiar, though from time to time Chen shift gears to music with more balls. In particular the track during the party scene, pretty cool stuff. Acting is very strong too, all three main characters putting in very solid performances. Not the easiest of parts as some on-screen openness was required, but the three of them handle it extremely well.

Eternal Summer is a pretty straightforward arthouse film, but one that does things just a little better than average and gives you these tiny flashes of brilliance which lift it above the competition. Just don't expect anything earth shattering. I'm pretty sure this film won't convert many people to Taiwanese cinema, but for those who already have a soft spot for it Eternal Summer will come as a welcome addition to the collection.

After only two films Chen is well on his way to become a personal favorite. He has a keen eye and is quite versatile. Eternal Summer is a lighthearted, dramatic and somewhat dreamy film about three kids that share a little too much love for each other. A strong blend of puberal wonder and melancholic musings
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mrhibbertJanuary 7, 2010 5:03 PM

Figured I should reply to this since noone else has. I picked up a VCD a while back (over a year) because the trailer was fantastic (the music was what really got me, the piano). It's good, I definitely enjoyed it. Maybe the ending was a little ..unbalanced? I don't know. But definitely enjoyed it, and the music is still great.

DaxeterJanuary 16, 2010 9:58 PM

For someone as old as myself, it is unfortunate that films have generally become so tedious, dark or overdone to the point that very few satisfy. Classics have lost their luster and new genres are weak despite technological advances in all areas of film. And then what happens? I fall in love with story about teenage angst. I don’t mean that I just love this film. I mean that this film will be part of me forever.
What causes me, unfortunately, to agonize is a realization that the film has done itself in by being a bit too intelligent, and as a result will not reach the vast audience that could also be affected by its message, especially young adults, but also those of us who are at the other end of our lives and yet still need to understand what really happened in our lives, or might still need to better understand friendship and love. After viewing the film, I went back to see what has been written about it by critics and the general audience reviews. Of course, the first problem is that it is generally viewed as a “gay film” and consequently featured at gay-sponsored film festivals. Although one of the characters happens to be gay, and one scene is a bit graphic, homosexuality is one of the least of its themes. In fact, whether the author, the script writer or Leste Chen the director intended it or not, it is the female character whose relationship with each of the young men is the prime mover of the entire story, and she is the catalyst for their change and an individual with much greater depth than the others. In fact the most tragic scene occurs when the young men’s complex friendship becomes such a burden in their lives, they begin fighting and the woman, who cares for both of them but has worked to bring them together, gets injured by them and neither one of the men go to her aid.
The second problem for the film is its ending. It is, in fact, the only ending that fits this movie, and yet the general reviews struggle with this because some kind of a resolution between the three characters seems to be needed. Perhaps the film should have been called “Preface to Life” since the film is only laying a groundwork for the future lives of these individuals. How they actually act upon that should not be of particular interest to us since it will depend upon so many other factors to come: new friends, new situations, the birth of children, etc. There could be no resolution at the end of the story that would suggest anything permanent. Nevertheless, the film does seem to invite the audience to take the story and begin to sort out their own complex relationships of friendships and loves. The film gives us many tools to use in this process. It was astounding for me to realize that a little film produced on the other side of the world could have so perfectly portrayed the source of my own problems with friends as a young adult that all could have been resolved by overcoming the inherent fear of honest communication. And even now late in my life as the guy who chose the woman, I can better understand what happened to some significant friendships and can finally let them go in peace.
The film is so crammed with questions or truths it almost becomes too much to process without many, many viewings. I have seen the film about 6 or more times and each time I see so much more: consider the soundtrack which uses a classical 6-note theme that progressively presents its denouement in an unexpected modern piece – it seems to bridge an “eternal” space. As for visual elements, I have never seen a more profound image of loneliness as young Shane sitting at a desk in the middle of a field, separated from everyone else because of his behavior that was not so bad as curious. I am also haunted by the cruelty of the educational system that is so deftly captured in this film, and yet, in the best line of the film spoken by the young Shane, he makes a crucially hopeful observation about the numbers the teacher had written on his forehead and that of his friend Jonathan. I am also intrigued how the phones play an important role in the film, how all the other cast members are generally faceless, and how I had never realized how friendship can drain the life from you.
I am grateful to find Twitch just recently, and to find that “Eternal Summer” was highlighted, and to have a chance to comment on this film. Sadly, I fear it is too late to encourage anyone to see it.