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Capsule Reviews

Eternal Summer    (2006)
What's so special about this new romantic-sorrowful flick isn't its brief daliance with gay love, nor its category III rating in Hong Kong. The rating no one should get worked up over, since they seem to be dishing them out like there's no tomorrow nowadays with little regard for actual content. In Eternal Summer's case it's likely due to a super short scene depicting the two male leads naked in bed and doing the nasty, something even the ho-hum Brokeback Mountain managed to get right with less fuss.

No, Eternal Summer dances around its main point to an exaggerated degree, in the end causing us to wonder what that point was meant to be to begin with. Rather, what's so special about this one is its membership in a very exclusive club of movies with enough projectile velocity to break free of Taiwan, where it was made. Taiwanese cinema has become rare, something we lament. For that only, Eternal Summer demands your support.

It unfortunately possesses scant few other redeeming traits. Viewers can see the whole gist of it from the get-go, and in its arsenal of tricks exist no better weapons than an age-old threesome of young and restless characters in search of definition. But they hardly do much to find meaning, which is likely a still-life phenomenon someone like Taiwan-based mastermind director Hou Hsiao Hsien would have worked wonders with. But trusted to 25 year-old Leste Chen (The Heirloom) it all comes across flat and uncompelling. Never mind, young auteurs like that require our attention and moviegoing prowess, so we're willing to take an uninspired story as part of proceedings.

Two additional newcomers do the main two protagonists, rebellious James Dean-type Shane by the darkly alluring Joseph Chang and geeky, lost soul Jonathan via Bryant Chang. Their characters meet as young boys at a rural school when Jonathan is asked by a teacher to buddy up with attention-lacking Shane as a means of getting the weaker student into the swing of things, and the rest constitutes a very short history.

Years later, they're best friends, almost inseparable and with an undercurrent of attraction not entirely par for the course, although that part is left for audiences to quite easily deduce on their own.

Into the mix is then thrown Carrie, played by sexy tomboy Kate Yeung, who we've before seen in Mighty Baby and The Eye 10. This young lady gives mid-90's Liv Tyler as serious a marathon for her money as can be arranged, easily stealing the show with her range of facial expressions and sincere, almost jocular attitude. She's largely wasted in Eternal Summer, with a skillset far more suited to the sarcastic niche filled by fellow youthful lovelies like Cherrie Ying.

All this takes place as the trio gets ready to finish high school and move on to college, and the plot follows them as they do so. One neat aspect of Eternal Summer is how it effectively excludes everyone else, forcing the story to highlight only the three as if they were the epitome of iconoclastic social angst. This does work, but lacks the power and impact derived from a truly interesting story to back it up.

Love and emotion get their two cents in as Jonathan and Carrie begin a timid exploration into the world of lust, something merely glanced in a missed opportunity transpiring at a Taipei love hotel. Then the balance of pheromone power shifts to see Carrie and Shane give it a go, with friendship remaining at the forefront all along.

Sure there's a desire to find out more about what drives people as they discover new ground in themselves. And the rustic, faux-retro feel (looks like they were indeed going for a late 90's setting) helps in avoiding gimmicks and other lifestyle distractions. Yet, Eternal Summer goes by unnoticed almost, and by the time its so-called sensational climax arrives the average viewer would be challenged to do more than tick a box on a checklist. Yes, it's still not a commonplace theme in cinema overall, let alone Asian cinema, but so much more could have been done with it.

Seriously, given a more mature crew at the wheel, Eternal Summer could have been deftly transformed into something to talk about for a while as a symbol of encompassing gay themes, or at the very least as a brain-boggling surreal love flick in the vein of 1999's Where Have all The Flowers Gone with Zhou Xun.

Bereft of potency, Eternal Summer inhabits a perpetual limbo state populated by movies that look good (the Taiwan countryside makes for some lush environs), are capably written on paper and could have been infinitely more aggressive in going about their business, but didn't. That's a shame and not the type of shot in the arm Taiwan's filmmakers need. We're still waiting for that particular season to come along.

6/10
Lee Alon 1/30/2007 - top

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 1/30/2007 Lee Alon

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