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Summer's Tail
Bryant Chang and Enno

Bryant Chang and Enno in Summer's Tail.
Chinese: 夏天的尾巴  
Year: 2007  
Director: Cheng Wen-Tang  
  Producer: Cheng Wen-Tang, Tsui Siu-Ming
  Writer: Enno (Cheng I-Nung), Cheng Wen-Tang, Jan Fu-Wha, Lu Yi-Ching
  Cast: Bryant Chang, Enno, Hannah Lin, Dean Fujioka
  The Skinny: Relaxing and pleasant, if not actually that substantial. This Taiwanese youth film is pretty to look at, and has a satisfying, picturesque feel that disguises its pedestrian aims and unoriginal concepts rather well. Star-writer-director's daughter Enno is a refreshing new talent.
by Kozo:

Remember when you spent your summers lazing away the hot days, aimlessly passing time with your friends, and unexpectedly growing up? I sure as hell don't. Good thing there's Summer's Tail to remind me what that was like - or, at least, what I wanted it to be like. Directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Chang Wen-Tang (Blue Cha-Cha) and produced by Hong Kong's Sundream Motion Pictures, the Taiwan-set Summer's Tail tells the age-old story of youth doing the things that youth do - like wasting time, exhibiting innocent righteousness, supporting each other wholeheartedly, and acting like their emotions are the most important thing in the world. These kids might grow or stay the same, but one thing's for sure: experiencing the lazy days of summer as a wide-eyed teenager simply rocks. Just contemplating the simple joy of it all is enough to give someone an overdose of warm 'n fuzzy.

Jimmy (Bryant Chang of the unrelated Eternal Summer) is a smart student with a problem: he had an affair with his teacher, but she's since called it off, leading to a continued surly attitude that distracts other students, not to mention teachers who look down on those sorts of student-teacher shenanigans. Meanwhile, Japanese exchange student Akira (Dean Fujioka) spends his time kicking a soccer ball into the side of a cargo container and ignoring his grades. Wendy (Hannah Lin) is a model student, but has a quiet thing for Jimmy - and possibly even Akira? At the center of it all is Yvette (Enno, who also co-wrote the script and serves in a full-time capacity as the director's daughter), a fledgling indie rocker who has to stay home from school because of her weak heart - which is seemingly losing the battle to her active personality and irrepressible need to get involved in other people's business. As the summer draws on, these individuals crisscross, break-up and make-up, plus lose their virginity and go cow tipping, right?

Wrong. That's stuff that happens in a far more action-filled youth movie, and Summer's Tail is as active as your average Scrabble game. Life moves slowly for the students, with many incidents told elliptically and without a great deal of urgency. Given the warm, languid tone, the kids' minor march towards adulthood feels genuine and possible, if not slightly inconsequential or even boring. Yvette practices her guitar and occasionally reads postcards from her traveling father. Jimmy slowly comes to terms with his inability to hook up with his teacher, and eventually turns his attention to someone of similar age, if not physical beauty. After getting in trouble for not studying for the fiftieth time, Akira eventually studies - with some help from his friends. Wendy realizes that Jimmy may not ever have the hots for her, but she's largely in the background, so if she suffers heartbreak, we barely even see it. And Yvette gets involved with everything, leading to the subtle awakening of her youthful, congenitally weak heart. Pass the tissues and/or caffeine injection.

The above plot description may sound like it's full of spoilers, but that could only be true if the events played like a traditional narrative or plot, which they don't. Director Chang Wen-Tang eschews tension, handling everything in picturesque, languid style, with the rural Taiwan locations and gorgeous blue skies carrying the proceedings in pleasant, amiable fashion. There's a lot to like about Summer's Tail because it seems just like that ideal summer from our rose-tinted memories of youth: lazy and relaxing, with hope and promise perpetually present. Some acute emotions arise, but nothing is too terrible as to be unfixable - that is, within the confines of the mutable, resilient sphere of youth.

The script (co-written by Cheng, Enno, and Jan Fu-Wha) occasionally slams adulthood, with kids reacting to the hypocrisy and belligerent pride of adults with wide-eyed incredulity and a righteous disbelief that simply screams, "No! Will I be this crappy when I'm an adult, too?" It's hard to say, because the movie doesn't last that long, but the feeling one gets from seeing the kids bounce through their summer days is that they're building the ace character necessary to become solid adults - much like Yvette's mother and grandmother, who are loving, mature, and even ultra hip for their advanced years. By the way, the film also features the possibility of a "terminal beauty" plot twist, plus the kind of "rah-rah" acts of charity one would expect from wide-eyed kids of awesome character. Wow, what kind of a wannabe shojo manga movie is this?

Actually, a fairly solid one, all things considered. There's a certain overstuffed and even cloying quality to the film's situations and characters, but director Cheng Wen-Tang manages to hide it through his relaxed tone, generous camera and lack of expository, self-serving dialogue. Main character Yvette is egregiously manufactured, from her heart condition to her ultra-concerned nosiness to her Bohemian hobbies, but Cheng and star Enno manage to make her a suitable, and even genuine-seeming charmer. Enno isn't as pretty as your usual ingénue, but she seems like a talented, real person - though one wonders if her contributions to the production are really signs of her talent, or the fact that her Daddy (who's also the producer-director) couldn't say, "No." The jury may be out until Enno makes Winter's Tail, or shows up as "the friend" in a more commercial film.

Still, Enno is a refreshing personality, and her fellow cast members are equally refreshing in that they don't seem too gorgeous or perfect to be unreal. The exception is Bryant Chang, who seems to playing far more of a "movie character" than his co-stars. His storyline is typical Asian drama fodder, and the fact that he's also much, much more physically attractive than any of his co-stars probably contributes to his slightly jarring presence. But in the end, neither Chang nor his character is a detriment to the film, which is as pleasing, mild, and blithely satisfying as the feeling its title evokes. Basically, Summer's Tail isn't a movie that you absolutely have to catch, and if you're so busy and involved with your own life, then the experience it proffers is likely not vital or important enough to demand your attention. But it's innocent, relaxing, and pleasing, and it hides its pretensions well enough that conjuring up supreme hatred for it would only reveal a person's deep-seated cynicism or bitterness. Better to not worry, be happy, and enjoy Summer's Tail for the simple little movie that it is. (Kozo 2008)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Sundream Motion Pictures
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Sundream Motion Pictures Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen