Review: ‘Eternal Summer’

'30 Rock'

Teenage friendship and true love are given a Taiwanese test in low key, but sure-footed, gay-themed meller "Eternal Summer." Sensitive and unsensational in tone, pic reps an unusual follow-up for helmer Leste Chen who last year delivered Taiwanese horror movie "The Heirloom." A must-have for gay fests seeking international quality, this effort will appeal to general festivals as well.

Teenage friendship and true love are given a Taiwanese test in low key, but sure-footed, gay-themed meller “Eternal Summer.” Sensitive and unsensational in tone, pic reps an unusual follow-up for helmer Leste Chen who last year delivered Taiwanese horror movie “The Heirloom.” A must-have for gay fests seeking international quality, this effort will appeal to general festivals as well. Opening strongly on home turf this week, commercial prospects across Asia appear promisingly robust, though key scenes may encounter negotiable censorship problems in some conservative territories.

In a brief opening scene that is eventually revealed to occur after yarn’s end, a trio of mildly bruised youths, Jonathan Kang (Bryant Chang), Carrie Tu (Kate Yeung) and Shane Yu (Joseph Chang) cheerleesly sit on a school bench. Initiated by Jonathan’s voiceover, narrative jumps back to the boy’s shared childhood in a seaside town in southern Taiwan. As young kids, studious and polite Jonathan was asked by his teacher to act as “a guardian angel” for the restless and rebellious Shane, whose natural habitat is hot water.

The alliance works out well for all concerned and a friendship initially formed out of duty becomes real. Flash forward 10 years and the now-teenage boys are still solid buddies. Jonathan remains the more academic of the two, but Shane has learned to channel his excessive energy into basketball.

Into the mix comes feisty, Taiwan-born schoolgirl Carrie, who has recently returned from living in Hong Kong. Carrie takes a shine to Jonathan, and encourages him to accompany her on a clandestine day trip to Taipei. Once there, she convinces him to go to a love hotel and sets her desired mood by activating the inhouse porn channel. Obedient to the last, Jonathan attempts to give Carrie what she wants, but backs out after a few fumbling fondles.

Back at school, after observing Jonathan and his buddy more closely, Carrie sadly concludes that her would-be beau is gay, and is in love with his male friend, Shane. Respectfully, Carrie keeps mum on Jonathan’s sexual orientation, but also finds her rival Shane boorish. In contrast, Shane is immediately smitten by Carrie.

Knowing she cannot carry the torch for Jonathan, Carrie’s initial negative reaction to Shane gives way to his boyish energetic charms.

During the trio’s final exam period, Shane manages to secure a promise from Carrie that she will be his g.f. if he reaches university.

Unexpectedly, the brawny Shane gets a boost toward academia thanks to his sporting prowess, while Jonathan fails due to an extended funk fuelled by his sexual identity crisis. Believing Jonathan also has the hots for Carrie, and unwilling to jeopardize either the three-way friendship or his buddy’s summer school cramming, Shane keeps his burgeoning relationship with Carrie secret. Yarn takes a couple of unexpected, but feasible, turns all the while keeping the meller elements at a sensible pitch.

All three central perfs have a strong ring of authenticity. Bryant Chang’s acutely observed thesping perfectly captures the melancholia of a troubled adolescent, while Joseph (no relation) Chang is superb as the jock who has more sensitivity than anyone has ever given him credit for. On the distaff side, Yeung, from Sylvia Chang’s “20 30 40,” portrays both the sharp and sweet sides of Carrie’s personality with equal dexterity.

Helming by Chen is gentle and evenly paced as befitting the script’s tender tone. Lensing establishes the melancholy mood with a winning combination of greens and grays. Soundtrack by Zee Yang and Howie Cho likewise compliments the melodramatic atmosphere, without overplaying its hand. Other tech credits are top-drawer.

Eternal Summer

Taiwan

Production

A Rolling Film Entertainment, Flash Forward Entertainment presentation of a Jing-Han-Tang Studio production. (International sales: Three Dots Entertainment, Taipei.) Produced by Leste Chen. Co-producer, Yang Hsu-fen. Directed by Leste Chen. Screenplay, Hsu Cheng-ping, from and original story by Dean Wang.

Crew

Camera (color), Charlie Lam; editor, Ku Hsiao-yun; music, Zee Yang, Howie Cho; production designer, Shen Chan-chih; art director, Lo Shun-fu; sound (Dolby Digital), Tu Duu-chiu. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (New Currents, competing), Oct. 13, 2006. (Also in Tokyo Film Festival.) Running time: 95 MIN. (Mandarin dialogue)

With

Shane - Joseph Chang Jonathan - Bryant Chang Carrie - Kate Yeung

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