Quality cinema seekers
may want to carve time into their schedule for Eternal
Summer, a Taiwanese youth drama from director
Leste Chen (The Heirloom). Eternal Summer
tells the story of Jonathan (Bryant Chang), a young
man who finds himself in an enviable (or maybe not)
romantic predicament. On one hand, he has pretty Hong
Kong transplant Carrie (Kate Yeung) after him. The
two share an idyllic day of hooky in the big city,
after which they check into a love hotel and get down
to the deed. No dice: Jonathan calls it off. It turns
out that he's in love with someone else, namely best
friend Shane (Joseph Chang), a roguish and handsome
troublemaker who excels at basketball and seems to
be headed nowhere in particular after high school.
Carrie gets Jonathan's problem,
and even accepts it. However, that isn't going to
solve things for these conflicted youth. The revelation
of Jonathan's sexuality creates tension between Carrie
and Jonathan. Shane is oblivious to his old friend's
issues, though, and initially has a contentious relationship
with Carrie. However, their unspoken conflict over
Jonathan gives way to their own relationship, which
they embark on without Jonathan's knowledge. The days
and nights pass, but the big secret of Jonathan's
desires hangs over the three friends like the proverbial
other shoe. Eventually, something has to give, and
when it does, lives will surely change.
Or will they? As the
title of the film may suggest, the emotions of youth
are not things that can easily pass, regardless of
honesty or sudden revelations. Not everything can
reach absolute closure, and Eternal Summer seems to echo that theme by concentrating on its suffering,
silent mood and the all-consuming emotions of its
characters. Jonathan is consumed day-to-day by his
passion for his pal, and Bryant Chang reveals his
character's inner torture with a pitch-perfect emotional
performance. Joseph Chang is even better, giving Shane
undeniable charisma and a substantial inner core.
The success of Eternal Summer hinges largely
on his character's hidden emotions, and Joseph Chang
handles the role with a charismatic, soulful energy.
As the unfortunate third party of the trio, Kate Yeung
is expressive and believable in a more limited and
subtle role than either of her two male costars.
More than anything,
Eternal Summer looks and sounds beautiful.
The widescreen compositions, pleasing colors, and
evocative soundtrack suit the film's gentle tone,
giving the film an almost tangible warmth. Director
Leste Chen's direction is evenly-paced and sensitive,
giving each detail purpose and emotional weight. The
film is almost too sure-handed, never presenting its
emotions or situations as sensational or overblown,
but also never digging too far beneath the surface.
Eternal Summer is a film about mood and atmosphere,
revealing and reveling in each character's feelings
such that they permeate each frame like invisible
emotion-saturated fog. The negative that exists in
this is that there's little complexity attained, as
the film reveals itself in an entirely too efficient
manner. We get the emotions and we get the situations,
and that feeling continues for a good ninety minutes.
When the film's more sensational moments do
occur, they're hardly unexpected.
Also, the film attempts to
tie things up with multiple "secrets" that
get revealed at the film's climax. The characters
bare their souls to each other, but it's questionable
if the secrets connect with the audience as much as
they do with the characters. For most of Eternal
Summer, the details suitably reveal the characters'
emotions, but when it's time for them to own up verbally,
the connection doesn't seem to gel. It's almost like
the film is unable to commit - a valid theme where
these characters are concerned, but hardly a satisfying,
or even fitting one considering the narrative's final
dramatic push. When Eternal Summer finally
ends, it seems that we're not left with an answer,
but simply an abundance of affecting emotion delivered
through gorgeous performance, image, and sound. From
a cinema standpoint, that's still an accomplishment.
The whole may not be satisfying or entirely substantial,
but if one were to judge solely by details, then Eternal
Summer is a lovely little achievement. (Kozo 2006)