In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the arts section has decided to showcase works created by Asian directors and writers. The reviews on this page reflect a step in the right direction toward an increasingly global perspective on entertainment.
Sometimes, films come along and electrify both audiences and critics on a massive scale. But, there are also awe-inspiring films equal in caliber to these blockbusters that manage to fly under the global radar. The 2019 Taiwanese powerhouse A Sun, released on Netflix in January 2020, is one of those films.
Following the story of two brothers, A Sun is a deeply introspective, darkly comedic, and heart-wrenching examination of a family dynamic gone awry following the incarceration of teenager Chen Jian “A-Ho” Ho (Chien-Ho Wu). After a shocking opening scene, A-Ho’s mother and father, Miss Qin (Samantha Shu-Chin Ko) and A-Wen (Yi-wen Chen), as well as his older brother, A-Hao (Greg Han Hsu), are thrown into complete emotional chaos while trying to pick up the pieces of what A-Ho left behind.
Each family member takes a different approach to coping. A-Wen turns inward, refusing to acknowledge A-Ho as his son and diving headfirst into supporting his older son, A-Hao, in his academic pursuits. Qin, after learning A-Ho had gotten a 15-year-old girl, Xiao-Yu (Apple Wu), pregnant prior to his imprisonment, continues to visit A-Ho in prison and takes Xiao-Yu under her wing at the hair salon she works at. A-Hao, burdened by the weight of his father’s heightened expectations following A-Ho’s failures, silently suffers. While the plotline follows the aftermath of the arrest, the one thing the family does not do is openly acknowledge the extent to which they are all affected by A-Ho’s actions, both individually and collectively.
A Sun, in short, is an absolute firecracker of a film. With engrossing and poetic dialogue, it catches audiences off guard with moments of comedic relief in its otherwise emotionally heavy script. The acting of each character is so spot on that it doesn’t even feel like watching a movie. Rather, it just feels like watching four people unravel around each other in real time. In addition to the excellent writing and acting, the cinematography is stunning. Shot in Taipei, Taiwan, the city’s architecture and scenery encapsulate the generally bleak tone of the film.
There is one breakout star of A Sun: Greg Han Hsu’s portrayal of A-Hao. Hsu’s A-Hao is perhaps the best character in the entire film—both likable and heartbreaking at the same time. From his wide, sad eyes to his broad, hunched shoulders, A-Hao is the picture of a young man struggling to keep himself afloat in the wake of a tragedy. Despite his universal kindness and his bright future, audiences cannot help but feel absolutely crushed for A-Hao as he begins to break under pressure. Hsu plays A-Hao with incredible precision and impeccable sadness.
Ultimately, A Sun is a complete triumph. It’s shocking that it wasn’t, at the very least, nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards alongside Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. A Sun, in its epic sadness and dark reality, is a classic drama.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix