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The Sun Also Rises

(left) Jaycee Chan gives Zhou Yun a ride, and (right) Anthony Wong and Jiang Wen.
Chinese: 太陽照常升起  
Year: 2007  
Director: Jiang Wen  
  Producer Albert Lee, Jiang Wen
  Writer: Shu Ping, Jiang Wen, Guo Shixing, Ye Mi (original novel)
  Cast: Zhou Yun, Jaycee Chan, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Joan Chen, Jiang Wen, Kong Wei
  The Skinny: The Sun Also Rises isn't the easiest film to make sense of, but sitting through it is an entertaining and even rewarding experience. An unusual, enchanting, and beautifully made film that defies classification. Not based on the Ernest Hemingway novel.
by Kozo:

The Sun Also Rises is a wondrous and beautiful film that exceeds expectations while also curiously sidestepping them. Actor-director Jiang Wen (Devils on the Doorstep) adapts from the novel "Velvet" by Ye Mi, delivering a film that doesn't exactly fit standard genre classification. The film tells four interrelated China-set stories, three of them taking place right around the end of the Cultural Revolution, though not explicitly stated as such. There's no hand-wringing or overwrought histrionics going on like in, say, Farewell My Concubine. Instead, the film concentrates on eccentric characters and unusual and quirky situations, sometimes tiptoeing on the edge of fantasy, but remaining grounded in a recognizable emotional and even political reality. The film also looks and sounds wonderful, though not so much that it entirely distracts the audience from its borderline unfathomable messages. Simply put, The Sun Also Rises enchants and entertains, but never quite adds up to something that concrete. However, that may be its ultimate strength.

The film opens in 1976 in a rural village in Eastern China, where a graying widow (Zhou Yun) dreams of a pair of embroidered shoes, and manages to purchase the exact pair the next morning from a local seller. However, she promptly loses them and subsequently seems to go mad. She spends her days uprooting a local tree, collecting large rocks, and generally acting like a village idiot with severe attitude. This is a problem for her son (Jaycee Chan), who has to constantly leave his job to prevent her from causing even more trouble, including possibly hurting herself. The conflict yields little overt resolution and lots of repetition, but somewhere in there, the mother makes her character and issues known, and her son subtly and quietly ages. Jaycee Chan is solid as the young man, and Zhou Yun is commanding and charismatic, demonstrating her character's madness with an odd combination of opaque charm and regal grace. The discoveries in this segment are major and yet not explicitly discussed, and the tone is lively, refreshingly comic, and ultimately bittersweet.

Segment two moves to Southern China in the same year, where college teacher Liang (Anthony Wong) comes under suspicion of perversion. Supposedly he groped some women at an outdoor movie, leading to an inspired flashlight-lit footchase and the sight of Anthony Wong injured, bedridden, and bizarrely beset by numerous women desiring his affections. Joan Chen is Dr.Lin, who desires to jump Liang's bones, and her wanton performance is dripping with palpable, possibly disturbing sexuality. Meanwhile, Liang turns to pal Tang (Jiang Wen) for some counsel, while silently coping with the possibility that the accusation against him may have set in motion events that will ruin him. This second segment features the most overt reference to the Cultural Revolution, referencing the time's "mob rule" mentality in a brazenly comic, but no less effective fashion. The segment is alive with song and character, delivering memorable moments and audio images that last long past the segment's surprising, affecting, and appropriate close.

Segment three moves back to Eastern China, where Tang meets up with the widow's son. The young man is now a brigade leader in the village, where Tang has been sent along with his wife (Kong Wei). The newcomers fit into their new environs in differing fashion. Tang becomes fast friends with the local kids thanks to the frequent pheasant hunts that he organizes, with his bugle providing the hunting calls, and his monstrous shotgun providing the means of execution. However, without his attentions, his wife begins to stray. Meanwhile, Tang discovers a mysterious stone cottage filled with crumbling monuments to memory, and the young man demonstrates an innocent, almost cheerful death wish. This third segment is given to the film's most evocative environments, and Jiang Wen anchors the entire segment with commanding presence. The film's plot - or what remains of it - finds its greatest suspense here, but that suspense is mitigated by a deliberate, inevitable outcome that bewilders as much as it affects.

The final story is the big payoff. Maybe. The film backtracks in time to 1958, where we finally learn how all these characters and events connect - or perhaps not. The Sun Also Rises doesn't deliver a discernible cause-and-effect that links its stories together, as the characters don't connect in the past as much as they just happen by one another via chance or coincidence. This is where the film's expectations fail, as the film's conclusion doesn't overtly reveal more than just the seeds of each character's eventual fate. The result is a movie that's a bit of a head scratcher, as it cannot deliver a conclusive point. For those seeking full understanding, The Sun Also Rises may be tough going, as it's clearly a film that's about something, but not one that presents its conclusions on clear, perfectly-lettered cue cards. When the film finally reaches its Gobi desert-set denouement, there's still the sense that the filmmakers need to dispense something - anything - that pulls the whole thing together. Willing cinema readers, cultural theorists, history buffs, or some combination of the above will likely find whole acres to chew on, but Joe Q. Moviegoer? They could be completely lost.

That's not to say that The Sun Also Rises fails, because it doesn't. Indeed, Jiang Wen takes his elliptical narrative and weaves something involving and even mesmerizing. Technically, the film is gorgeous, possessing sublime cinematography and art direction; Cultural Revolution-era China has probably never been more attractive than here. The film's sometimes fantastic feel extends beyond its events; the settings, colors, and atmosphere bleed a sort of idealized, glorious reality. The film's subtle tone is another key, sometimes implying the dramatic or tragic, but also seeming whimsical or lyrical. The acting and narrative, while potentially frustrating in their opacity, are nevertheless affecting in their unpredictable, immediate emotions. The music and sound are also top-notch; the film makes frequent use of song and poetry, ace composer Joe Hisaishi provides a trademark distinctive score, and the film's sound design has a powerful presence all its own. The lively tone and enchanting details easily carry the film. This is a movie that can end with meaning or purpose possibly escaping one's grasp. However, Jiang Wen makes acute, admirable use of every other power that cinema possesses, such that a complete story need not be told. It only has to happen, like a flower blooming, or perhaps the sun rising in the East. As a clear narrative journey, The Sun Also Rises doesn't quite click, but as cinema, the film absolutely soars. (Kozo 2007)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Various Extras


images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen