Edward Yang in his film Brighter Summer Day presents the historical event of the Communists’ war and its effect on the people. The film centers on the lives of teenagers as they battle with issues of coming of age, and the struggle with identity and social, political crisis. The immigration of people as they fled from mainland China to Taiwan seeking refuge from the war creates generations of strangers becoming locals in Taiwan. The settling in of the immigrants causes political unrest, and the families feel alien to the way of life in Taiwan. The young people, who naturally face struggles as they become of age, face escalated issues, as a result of the instability in the families and the political suspicion. Embracing the global culture is a way of reconciling diversities and finding common ground for diverse perspectives. The Communist war had an overflowing effect on the Taiwanese life and culture as people migrated from mainland China to Taiwan, bringing about political suspicion, unstable families, with extremists teenagers, who could not find their footing as they became of age.
The historical event of the Communist struggle affected the lives of current and immediate future generations by migration into Taiwan. The immigrants are uncomfortable in their current location and as a result, the families and not stable. Yang presents the family of Xiao Si’r whose parents migrated from mainland China following the Communist war in 1949. As the film opens, the family has been in Taiwan for ten years, and they still do not blend in or feel comfortable or consider Taiwan to being their home. The immigration affects the parents and their children in that since the parents do not feel at home in Taiwan, the children are restless and find where they should consider home as alien to them. Ironically, the parents feel uncomfortable living in Taiwan even when they have considerably good jobs and are living modest lives. The language and culture of Taiwan are different from that of mainland China, making the immigrants blending in difficult. The immigration has an indirect influence on the character and rowdiness of the teenagers. The teenagers’ extremism results from lacking the feeling of belonging to their families, which results from the families discomfort of living in Taiwan. The effect of the war overflows through generations even after the completion of the combat.
As Taiwan struggles to gain a foot in politics, the immigrants were political suspects, shattering the families to the root. Considering the massive migration from mainland China to Taiwan, the political stability of the nation was at stake. The island was trying to stabilize politically, and the migration of people who had close associations with Communists posed a threat to that stability. Consequently, the police were very wary of the immigrants. They considered some immigrants as a threat to the political stability of the island thus could arrest and detain them for interrogation. For example, Si’r father after living in Taiwan for more than ten years was arrested and kept in police custody for questioning and interrogation. Although the police eventually released him, that was the end of the modest life of the family. Being a political suspect was the worst thing that could happen to an individual in Taiwan at the time. Following the arrest, Si’r’s father lost his job, and the society treated the family with suspicion. As a result of the stress the family was going through, Si’r breaks a bulb with a baseball bat, as the administrator and his father deliberate over his conduct. The political suspicion and father’s arrest and his conduct lead to Si’r is expulsion from school which escalates the problems the family and the teenager have. Si’r’s instability of the mind from these occurrences push him to kill Ming over infidelity. His imprisonment is a result of numerous factors beyond him that shaped his teenage life. The political suspicion was a threat to the stability of the family, job and even schooling of the immigrants.
Teenagers face difficulties similar to those for all other teenagers. Normally, as young people come of age, they face the identity crisis, as they venture in love and socialization. Yang details the lives of a bunch of high school students, who exercise their socialization through forming gangs. There are two gangs of boys the Little Park Boys, descendants of the civil servants and the 2117’s, the children of military service men. Through these grouping, Yang brings to light the socialization hat takes place normally, among young people. As teenagers socialize, they tend to group themselves according to their social status, economic stability or instability of their families and at the least the occupations and careers of their parents. Yang also presents the concept of a lost teenager, who does not fit in either stratification but floats amid the two groups. Si’r does not belong to either of groups although he tends to agree more with the Little Park Boys than the 217’s. Yang uses Si’r’s inability to fit in with either group to set him apart from the teenagers. Si’r represents a common character as young people become of age. Naturally, teenagers either fit in social groups or become loners, as Si’r did, incapable of conforming to a social group and incapable of living free of the social groups. As a result, the individual is lost and mostly torn between the group rowdiness and individual adventure. Common to coming of age, the theme of love and conflict over love troubles these teenagers. Yang shoots two lovers n the dark, to signify the darkness that overshadows the teenagers as the negotiate love and young adulthood of embracing adulthood. When a guard catches Si’r and Cat secretly watching a local drama shooting in a video theater, Si’r snatches his flashlight. Si’r notices a movement in the dark and shines the flashlight only to startle two lovers. Through this scene, Yang underscores the darkness that roams over the love life of teenagers. This scene is also symbolic of the darkness that roams over the love relationship between Ming and Honey and later Si’r. By using smoky colors, Yang emphasizes the tragic nature of the film and the uncertainty that saturates it. The lives of teenagers are full of uncertainties, of who they are, what they want or what will become of the theme. Similarly, the smoky colors obstruct the clear view, symbolizes the uncertainties that lie ahead of the teenagers. The use of smoky colors and the darkness overwhelming the lovers capture the uncertainties in the characters’ lives and the tragic nature of the film.
The instability in the families and the politics of Taiwan escalate the woes of the teenagers. The families of these teenagers are unstable as earlier mentioned from their inability to fit in the Taiwanese culture and language. As a result, what could have been normal socializing groups for the teenagers turns out to be teenage gangs. Instead of indulging in what teenagers do best such as sports, music, dancing in clubs or watching movies in theaters these teenagers from rival gangs which are brutal and relentless in their criminal activities. Gang formation is a sign of social instability in a neighborhood. When the children’s families are financially stable, these gangs tell the audience that the social live in this neighborhood is extremely unstable. The teenagers find solace in each other’s company and in indulging in the rowdiness that they do. Normally, gangs are frequent in slums and low-life neighborhoods. Finding gangs in modest live neighborhoods is an indication of real social problems. The conflicting gangs from the society and kind of life, symbolize the warring groups during the Communist war. The differences in ideology or perspective result in the fights in the gangs, as it were the case in the Communist war. The teenagers depict the same characteristics which are the cause of their woes, ten years before their time. The political instability their families experience flows down to the teenagers, resulting to the depiction of cruelty towards others who hold differing opinions. This barbarian conduct is as a result of the social and political instability surrounding the teenagers. The family is the basic unit which provides children with stability. When that unit fails to make the teenagers feel secure, they are likely to develop wayward conduct. The situation worsens when the social and political environment escalates the tension. As a result, the teenagers tend to indulge in all sorts of crime, as they seek to sense of belonging. The teenagers find common ground with the gang members through the crimes and rowdiness they undertake. Additionally, the political suspicion affects the teenager’s ability to relate to each other. For example, when Si’r’ father is arrested and questioned regarding his association with Communists in mainland China, the teenagers grow suspicious of Si’r and detach themselves from him. Originally, Si’r had trouble associating with the gangs, and he could not a place in either of the gangs. The suspicion arising from his father’ arrest only makes things worse for him. His already troubled social life is now more unstable and extremely delicate and vulnerable.
Violence becomes a part of the teenagers’ life. The film unfolds amid the crisis of teenagers as they took violence as they way to solve their differences. Honey, the leader of the Little Park Boys, is in hiding after killing a member of the 217s. Honey claims that he killed the other because he came between his love relationships with Ming. Whether that is true or not, Yang uses this to underscore the barbarian nature of the teenagers, and the way they have lost control over their actions. While the teenagers could find other means to solve their differences, they resulted in brutality and murder as a way to rid themselves of the opposing opinion. In away, Yang uses these traits in the teenagers to mirror what was happening in the society at the time. In mainland China, the war resulted from differences in ideologies. In Taiwan at the time, the police were arresting and harassing people suspected of communist associations. These barbarian actions and brutality were evident in the society. Using the teenagers’ actions and behavior, yang mirrors the ills of h Taiwan society after the Communist war. It is disheartening to see that after Honey had killed the boy from the 217s he fled to avoid arrest and joined another gang, comprising of adults. By hinting of the existence of an adult gang, Yang shows that the problems the teenagers had was not unique to them, but was an evil ailing the whole society. It is also disheartening to see that the leaders were against any compromise or efforts at reconciliation. When Honey comes from hiding disguised, he finds the acting leader arranging a concert, which will seal a peace truce with the 217s he berates him for that. The Little Park Boys members represented by the acting leader Sly are ready for a compromise which will bring to an end the hostility between the two gangs. However, the leaders of the two gangs, Honey and his equal in the 217s are not ready for peace. This is evident when Honey disapproves of Sly’s truce and concert, and when he comes to cause trouble during the concert. The apparent lack of respect for Honey from his gang indicates their disregard of is perspective and their desire to attain peace through the concert. When the leader of the 217s says he wants to talk with Honey after he causes trouble at the concert, he gives a false impress of compromise of pursuit for peace. However, his disregard for Sly’s effort to reconcile the gangs is apparent when he pushes Honey in the way of a vehicle which runs him down. The cold murder of Honey reflects the political disregard of human life after the Communist war. The leader of the 217s gang did not shy away from the thought of killing a rival. His crime of murder underscores the violence nature of the teenagers. The barbarian actions of Honey and the leader of the 217s mirror the barbarian actions of social and political leaders. The society did not think twice before punishing those holding different opinions. The teenagers depict the same intolerance of different perspectives. The aftermath of the Communist war was an unstable society which adored violence, and this manifested in the teenagers as gangs and disregard for peace and human life.
Embracing a global culture seems like an escape from the differences. The gangs’ decision to use Rock ‘n’ Roll music to seal their truce is a gesture of appreciating the global culture or western culture. By embracing a different neutral culture, they gangs could find common ground. The cultural globalization appears in this case to be a reconciling factor, which could allow the conflicting perspectives to find a place in each other.
Conclusively, historical events have effects which overflow for years and generations after their settling and completion. The Communist war in 1949 in mainland China has lasting effects in Taiwan for more than two years. The immigrants found it difficult to blend in the culture and custom of the island. The extensive family instability resulted in socially unstable neighborhoods although with financial stability. Consequently, the teenagers were socially unstable and resulted in violence and crime, mirroring what was happening in the society. Also, the political suspicion has far-reaching consequences for the individuals and their families. Historical events occur and conclude, but they leave behind effects that are difficult to deal with and heal.