This is field of glass against clouds in a radiant bright sky during the day used to signify the optimisim in "A Sun".

The film is one of those where it seems most of its climax and draw are relegated to the ending, but surprising it almost makes up for the slow and confounding feel of the film.

Probably one of the harshest lessons that everyone will eventually learn, is that life will be hard but it will continue to go on. A Sun a 2019 Taiwanese film captures this understanding so sincerely in a film about a family of four that is plagued with tragedy and discomfort.

A Sun is really a series of vignettes connecting the family of four to the troubles brought forth with a dysfunctional friendship between the youngest son in the family, Chen Jian Ho (Chien-Ho Wu) and his friend Radish (Kuan-Ting Liu). The damage to the family begins with a confrontation between Chen Jian Ho, Radish and a boy named Oden (Li-Tung Chang) resulting in Oden’s hand being cut off with a machete. Chen Jian Ho is sent to juvenile detention as punishment for three years and Radish is locked away for much longer. The vestiges of this mistake between Radish and Jian Ho branches off to affect everyone in this family, leading to intense dread and chaos.  

The film is one of those where it seems most of its climax and draw are relegated to the ending but surprising, it almost makes up for the slow and confounding feel of the film. The film is riddled with a vision of emptiness, exploring the idea of fate versus choice and their intersection with our desires. Although the trouble Jian Ho brings is shown to be shattering for the family, there are a series of moments in the film where it seems like the characters are just a victim of their circumstance and are made to just go with the flow despite their preference. You see this precisely with Jian Ho’s mother Miss Qin (Samantha Ko), who never relishes in her dread but instead chooses to move forward with whatever slice of punishment she’s issued in her life. Throughout the film, there is a feeling of complacency and surrender; it’s something that Chen Jian Ho comes to appreciate as he ages in the film and it’s eventually used as a sign of his maturity when he chooses to make the best of his circumstances instead of yielding to his natural inclinations. For the most part, only his dad A-Wen (Yi-wen Chen) wonders about dreaming, a trait which is ultimately clarified as impetuousness.

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The naturalistic style of A Sun makes it hard to really engage interest in the film early on. Frankly, it can feel boring until about half way through when the story starts to pick up stem as we find Jian Ho in juvenile detention and when more trouble befalls the family. Until then, the winding of events feel haphazardly sliced together, rushed but somehow, also sluggish on the perspectives of Jian Ho’s parents and his older brother A-Ho (Chien-Ho Wu). But it does help to contextualize the fact that they are representative of a regular family just trying to get by. Perhaps writer-director Mong-Hong Chung and screenwriter Yaosheng Chang wanted to illustrate the concept of how life is largely mundane with little peaks that are exacerbated by sadness and so, the film’s lacklustre tone quietly works to emphasize the depths of Wen and Miss Qin’s anguish at different chaotic moments in their life.

Frankly, since the heat in the film comes from Radish, Jian Ho’s trouble friend, it’s quite unfortunate that it takes so long before their dysfunctional arche is centred in the film. Through Radish we are able to examine the idea of what we owe our friends, when you should push past your pride and how tolerance of each other’s suffering only ends in more suffering. All these lessons are illustrated through the decisions that are made by A-Wen and Miss Qin. Every time they choose to defer to the status quo, something terrible happens but when they choose to focus on managing the well-being of all the members of their family, they are able to gain a sense of order, often with a heavy price. It’s a simple lesson but a powerful one about the importance of actively staying on top of the people and things in your life that matter instead of allowing yourself to be carried away by the circumstances you’re in. By the time A-Wen and Miss Qin are alerted of their consequences of their neglect of their children, it’s too late.

All things considered, A Sun is mostly underwhelming because there is a cap on the excitement possible in a film that mostly relies on character development to anchor interest instead of eschewing equal attention on plot development and pacing. Like most slow abstracts, the film asks a lot of its viewers efforts to land. Itisn’t the perfect didactic drama but it does offer an affirmation of something that is hardly ever seen in cinema and that is a vision of emptiness which is true to most low-income lifestyles with its candid depiction about how difficult life can be for most ordinary people.

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