A Sun is a sprawling, tragicomic, and fractured tale of a family of four undergoing a series of calamities. Part family drama and part crime thriller, it starts off with A-Ho (Chien-Ho Wu), the troubled younger son who is affiliated with a shockingly violent crime and sent to juvenile detention. The rest of the family—cantankerous father Wen (Yi-wen Chen), compassionate mother Qin (Samantha Shu-Chin Ko), and studious older son A-Hao (Greg Han Hsu)—finds itself splintering emotionally, with each individual wrestling with other problems and misfortunes in the messy fallout. A Sun is also Taiwan’s foreign language Oscar submission for 2021, having already won several Golden Horse awards.
Director and screenwriter Mong-Hong Chung—who also shot the movie under the pseudonym Nagao Nakashima—imbues this difficult family drama with great complexity of emotion. The movie meanders into the lives of its four leads and presents tragedy after tragedy that leaves the audience and its characters falling into near despair. The small, compelling cast of mostly unglamourous but riveting faces are presented in a strangely opaque fashion: these characters do not allow other characters (or the audience) into their interior lives, yet their complex emotions about life and each other are crystal clear. So much pain and grief is left unspoken or hidden that the actions the characters do take become almost bewildering to themselves and others. All that is left are heavy clouds of shame, regret, and disconnect.
Chung also has an assured visual flare. A Sun is polished and beautiful, with glowing greens and pure sunlight (as the title hints at) in sunny, outdoor scenes or anxiety-inducing, harsh, reflective neons throughout its various interior or nighttime ones. Light and shadow become meaning-laden motifs throughout the film, even in dream sequences and flashbacks. There is also a small, hand-drawn, animated sequence that plays when A-Hao tells a friend a parable about Sima Guang (a Chinese historian from the 11th century) that becomes one of the keys to unlocking the promising young man’s decision to commit suicide part way through the film. Again, there is an opaqueness to the characters. Some things are left tantalizingly unexplained, like why the mother is working as a beautician at a seedy club or what else happened in the time A-Ho was in juvie.
Furthermore, there are some really wild tonal shifts in the movie. Although it is mainly somber and grounded, the film starts off with intensely graphic violence. With the return of Radish (Kuan-Ting Liu), A-Ho’s partner-in-crime who was incarcerated for several years longer than him, an electrifying and tense energy seeps from the antagonistic and psychotic figure. (He would make an excellent villain in any long-running mob series as he reveals himself to be surprisingly charismatic and sympathetic at times, even in his twisted manipulation and hatred of the Chen family.) There is also a hilariously deadpan wedding scene between A-Ho and his young girlfriend (Apple Wu) and one outrageous scene involving a sewage truck.
Ratings (out of 5):
Directing: 4 Story: 4.5 Acting: 5 Dialogue: 4.5 Editing: 4 Visuals: 5 Music/Score: 4 Overall Average: 4.4