Yee Chih-yen, Taiwanese director of the much-celebrated Blue Gate Crossing, delivers a heartfelt, humorous and poignant coming of age story in Meeting Dr. Sun. Part high school drama, part adventurous heist flick, the film follows impoverished high-schooler Lefty (Zhan Huai-yun), and his desperate efforts to make some fast cash to pay off the class bully.
Convinced he is the poorest kid at his school, Lefty schemes to steal and sell a bronze statue of Taiwanese political founder Dr. Sun Yat-sen, which he discovers discarded in the school storage room. Cajoling his classmates into helping him, Lefty soon discovers that another student, Sky (Wei Han-ting) has hatched a similar scheme.
At first, Lefty confronts Sky, proclaiming himself the more destitute - and therefore more deserving - of the pair. While Lefty lives with his grandmother, who makes paper flowers for a living, Sky suffers in a threadbare house with only a drunken father for company. Lefty proposes that they pool their resources and steal the statue together, but Sky has different ideas.
Yee draws plenty of humour from the competitive efforts of Lefty and Sky to each proclaim himself the poorest kid in Taipei, but the laughter thinly veils their pitiful home lives and living conditions. Beyond that, however, Yee also uses his story to playfully put the younger generation back in touch with their cultural roots. The struggles and accomplishments of Dr. Sun may seem a lifetime ago to Taiwan's population today, but given the opportunity, Sun can still inspire the people to strive for a better life.
The young performers do a great job of winning our sympathies despite their criminal activities, and the action builds to a fantastic final act. Unbeknownst to each other, the two gangs descend on the school on the same night, wearing identical plastic anime masks (because they were the cheapest!), inadvertently creating a single faceless army. Yee momentarily evolves his film into a horror flick, to hilarious effect, as a mass of identical automatons terrifies the school security guard and his girlfriend (cameos by Joseph Chang and Gina Li), before smuggling the statue off campus.
The message and imagery in Meeting Dr. Sun are never subtle, but that never works against such a playfully told tale. In fact, Yee manages to glean striking motifs from the sight of Dr. Sun silhouetted proudly against the Taipei skyline at dawn. And as is the case with all good coming-of-age tales, the outcome of the mission itself proves ultimately irrelevant, it is what the boys learn about themselves on their journey that will shape them for their future.
This proves the case with Meeting Dr. Sun as well - an occasionally surreal and always good-humoured look at the myriad struggles faced by Taiwan's youth, and the innocently proposed suggestion that the past may still hold one or two answers, should they care to listen.
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