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Eternal Summer(盛夏光年; Shèng Xià Guāng Nián) released Taiwan 2006
October 2010: The earth revolves happily around the sun. What happens when a comet enters the solar system and is pulled inexorably towards its centre?*
Early in primary school a boy behaves so badly that he is ostracised by his whole class and teacher. The only solution, mother and headteacher agree, is to allocate him a friend, whose constant presence will modify his behaviour. And so Jonathan, the class monitor, finds himself paired with Shane, the class outcast, and a friendship begins that takes them through secondary school and into university.
We meet the boys again in their last year of school. Shane has become a handsome and energetic athlete, star of the
basketball team. Jonathan is his equally good-looking sidekick, who watches from the sidelines, his presence essential for Shane’s morale.
Enter new pupil Carrie. When she and Jonathan become friends, she persuades him to join her on an illicit day-trip to Taipei, which ends in a night together in a hotel, but, in bed together, Jonathan is unable to finish what Carrie has started. Soon afterwards, Carrie meets Shane and as the three of them prepare to start university, their emotional lives become more entangled.
Eternal Summer is not a teenage romance film. Nor is it a gay film, although homosexual desire is a major element. A coming-of-age film, it is about love and friendship and the pain of learning that we cannot always have what we want, that we cannot always keep what we once had and that our desires, and the desires of those who love – platonically or sexually – may not match.
In this highly moving story, we are drawn deeper and deeper into the lives of these two young men, finding ourselves in turn irritated and empathising with each youth’s moodiness. We silently call out to Jonathan to stop sulking – until we understand why he sulks. We are embarrassed by Shane’s aggression – until we understand what drives it. We watch the two of them come together in the wrong way and at the wrong time and wonder how this ménage à trois will end.
As a gay man, I of course empathised more with the two youths than with Carrie, as I am sure women empathise more with her predicament. For Carrie is equally torn, between her desire for one and her friendship with the other, and by the realisation that the two boys need each other perhaps more than either needs her. But the film’s genius is to finally bring the audience to that point which we seldom reach in real life – to make us fully understand all three and thus to desire and ache with each of them.
Eternal Summer has deservedly been seen as one of the best films to have come out Taiwan and it has been nominated for and won several awards. Kudos of course goes to director Leste Chen, writers Cheng-Ping Hsu and stars Joseph Chang (Shane), Bryant Chang (Jonathan) and Kate Yeung (Carrie). I would like to mention the young boys who play the primary school Jonathan and Shane with such naturalness and intensity, but have been unable to find their names on any English language site.
* The Chinese names of the characters indicate that Shane (Shou-Heng) represents the sun, Jonathan (Zheng-Xing) the earth and Carrie (Hui-Jia) the comet.
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