Monday, March 1, 2021

Movie with Abe: A Sun

A Sun
Directed by Mong-Hong Chung
Released January 24, 2020 (Netflix)

Family dynamics are usually complicated, and the expectations of parents are rarely met by their children. Whether that becomes a source for positivity because of unanticipated interests and impressive accomplishments depends on the attitude of the parents and the way in which the children present their successes. Other factors outside of any of their control can have irreversible influences, charting a course that looks very different from what they may have planned for or hoped. Taiwan’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature presents a stark portrait of consequences and family relations.

Chen Jian Ho (Chien-Ho Wu), better known as A-Ho, is arrested after he participates in an attack on Oden (Li-Tung Chang) in which his friend Radish (Kuan-Ting Liu) chops off Oden’s hand. When he is sent to prison, his mother Qin (Samantha Shu-Chin Ko) visits him and supports his pregnant girlfriend Yu (Apple Wu), while his father Wen (Yi-wen Chen) pretends he does not exist, which is difficult when the father (Chih-Ju Lin) of his victim harasses Wen for money as reparation for his son’s actions. When his older brother (Greg Han Hsu) kills himself, A-Ho must confront a new reality that finds him working multiple jobs to make ends meet and haunted by actions and relationships from his past.

This film starts off rather brutally, representing a tendency towards violence that is not indicative of any part of A-Ho’s personality. While Radish embodies a darker approach to life that he attempts to use to subvert him, A-Ho is generally helpful, unhappy at first not to be told about Yu’s pregnancy but able to make friends in prison and then do what he must to make money after he is released and still not acknowledged by his father. Wen’s job as a driving instructor adds additional layers to the values he instills in his family, giving frequent grandstanding speeches to his students that indicate a worldview predicated on hard work and fruitful rewards that he has not seen happen in his own life.

This film runs over two and a half hours, covering several chapters in A-Ho’s young adulthood. It likely didn’t need to be quite so long, but there is a quiet power to the moments in which A-Ho and Wen, in particular, reckon with their circumstances and find themselves unable to change them, no matter how determined they are to work hard and do what society expects of them. The performances are strong and add to a rich and thought-provoking exploration of how people contribute to their own destructive cycles, hopeless to change them but able to draw the good out of them in subtle and telling ways.


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