What are ‘you’ when you’re pushed to the wall? What’s left to live when it’s apparent that nothing can ever get worse than your present? A son who looks set for a bright future as a medico commits suicide, his younger sibling is sent to a juvenile detention centre for being an accomplice in an act of violence. The father of the victim in the crime demands 1.5 million yuan as compensation, the second son’s barely 15-year-old girlfriend is pregnant. The parents of the two sons are shaken but must still find a way to deal with the crisis. The award-winning Chinese film A Sun is all about suffering, but surprisingly isn’t a sob fest either.
It’s about the empty, desolate eyes that convey helplessness. The film is not about the funeral, it’s the life after it. A Sun is a heart-rending ride of emotions that’s powerful and poignant at the same time. It opens viewers to oft-ignored dimensions of depression, suffering, love and parenthood. It is a powerful statement on mental health without being showy about it. The film mirrors the different ways in which the male and the female parent love their wards, the biases they might have for a child and how destiny may have other plans for them.
A-Ho is the quintessential problematic child - rebellious, arrogant, getting into fights often and is definitely not the favourite of his car-driving instructor father A-Wen. Worse, he is staring at a bleak future after a stint at the detention centre. A-Hao, the elder one is everyone’s favourite - calm, looks sorted with a clear idea of his future and considerate with people. The hairdresser mother, well, is the quintessential doting mother, not happy but resigning to her fate. What if the rebellious child is the only option left for the parents? The conflict is strikingly universal.
A Sun is as much about reformation too. A-Ho posts his return from incarceration is a changed man, working multiple shifts to fend for his family. The father, who had recommended a strict punishment for his son in court, isn’t able to see face to face with him after his release. The mild ego clashes and the later amendments are so delicately weaved on the screen. It’s beautiful how the father is never vocal about the love for his son and yet could go to any extent to protect him - the subtle revelations in the climactic sequence through a conversation between the parents is a great example of underplayed-yet-effective screenwriting.
Motherhood is also an integral element of the narrative here. An ageing mother knows she has a problematic son to deal with and yet goes about it with so much restraint. The sequence where she narrates the childhood of a son through a cycle ride and the director uses that idea again in the climax, shows the film’s attention to detail. Meanwhile, another mother, that of the female protagonist Xiao Yu doesn’t marry or even care to have a boyfriend, to raise her adopted daughter. Another character is that of a 15-year-old girl who chooses to mother a baby despite all the conflicts that surround her, including a jailed partner.
The dark humour is interesting amid all the moroseness - don’t miss the scene where the father of the victim Oden (in an act of violence that A-Ho is partly responsible for) unleashes a pile of shit from a septic truck at A-Wen’s parking lot. Both on a visual and a metaphoric level, the scene tells a lot about the plight of A-Wen’s family. The film isn’t without its element of gore too - the hand of a teenager is chopped and is left to fall in a boiling bowl of a soup, a frame that haunts you persistently.
On a philosophical level too, A Sun is as impressive. ‘Seize the day, decide your path’ is a quote that the writer uses through the film at different junctures with multiple interpretations to good effect. The reimagination of the tale of how the young Chinese historian Sima Guang had saved his playmate stuck in a well, through the eyes of a depressed A-Hao is brilliant too.
At 156 minutes, the film offers something for everyone and still doesn’t leave you moist-eyed. There’s a sense of hope in it. The lead cast Yi-wen Chen, Samantha Shu-Chin Ko, Chien-Ho Wu and Greg Han Hsu among many leave a strong impression within the boundaries of a strong story and don’t go overboard. A Sun deserves your time.