TIFF 2019: ‘A Sun’ Explores the Complexity of Emotion

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A Sun

The sun is one of the few things in existence that is truly unbiased. When two people are standing in its light, it doesn’t choose one person over the other to be brighter for. But for those standing in it’s rays the effects might not be the same.

Directed by Chung Mong-Hong, A Sun shows how individual acts can affect the whole family in unforeseen and heartbreaking ways. When his youngest son A-Ho (Wu Chien-Ho) is sent away to a juvenile detention centre for attacking another young man, A-Wen (Chen Yi-Wen) , decides that he no longer wants anything to do with A-Ho, and turns all of his attention to his work as a driving instructor and to his eldest son A-Hao (Xu Guang-Han). For years A-Hao, who aspires to be a doctor, has been seen as the one worthy of support. The one who A-Wen focused all of his attention, hopes, and aspirations on, like a bright ray of sunshine.

After A-Ho is sent away, his girlfriend Xiao-Yu (Wu Dai-Ling), turns up at their home for the first time and her aunt reveals she’s pregnant with A-Ho’s child. Rather than turn her away, the boys’ mother Qin (Samantha Ko), accepts Xioa-Yu into the family and as her hairdressing assistant. As A-Ho begins to reflect on his actions, and things seem to have settled at home, his brother does something that completely shatters the family. Just like the sun slipping behind a cloud, this tragedy casts a shadow over them, leaving his family to find their way out.

A Sun

With A Sun, Chung lays human emotions bare in all of their complexities. Emotions like happiness and anger are usually the easiest to explain because they are the ones we’re more comfortable expressing. But sadness, fear,  jealousy and hurt are the ones we hide because we’re afraid of how people will perceive us. In the cruelest catch-22, we use anger and at times fake happiness to hide this.

Depression is something else that we experience that has a profound effect on the way we experience life. Chung deftly reveals how the signs for some who experience depression, aren’t always obvious. These people don’t dwell in the shadows, but manage walk in the full brightness of the sun even though it’s burdensome. To the person walking beside them – a mother, brother, friend, or father – everything seems fine.

They have no idea what their loved one is experiencing internally. There are a lot of visual metaphors to the emotional state of the characters, but it’s a story about Sima Guang, told by A-Hao to his friend that reveals his state of mind. The story reveals that A-Hao is waiting for his friends, and more than likely his brother to look deeper for him and rescue him for the darkness he’s been hidden in. It’s only when, it’s too late that A-Ho realizes that the bother he was always jealous of and resented for receiving their father’s attention, was struggling, and needed and wanted his help.

I always say that depression is a thief of joy because it tells you there’s no hope. It tells you there is no possibility of finding a way out. It steals your peace of mind.

A Sun

Through his characters Chung shows how resilient we can be, even after suffering a devastating loss. He allows them to express every facet of grief, from despondency to pure rage, as A-Ho does when he comes to terms with the fact he let his jealousy of A-Hao prevent them from bonding.

A Sun is beautifully shot and crafted, but it’s the performances especially those by Wu and Chen, that keep it grounded. Wu’s portrayal of A-Ho’s emotional growth from a rebellious teenager to a mature young man is done naturally, and feels earned. As A-Wen, Chen seems to always have an air of resentment about him, but somehow manages to make him relatable and even likable at times, even when he’s being a hard headed curmudgeon towards his family.

Though the main cast were all great, there is one supporting actor Liu Kuan-Ting, who really caught my attention with how much he made me dislike his character Radish. Any actor who can invoke intense feelings of annoyance and disdain, has definitely done their job quite well.

A Sun is not only a story about the relationship between fathers and sons, it’s a lesson telling us to pay attention to the people in our lives. It asks us to notice them and listen to what they’re saying and not saying, because it’s in the quiet moments that we sometimes speak the loudest. If we do, there is a chance healing and personal redemption can be found, and as in A-Ho’s case – who learned to want better for himself – hope for a brighter tomorrow where the sun can be a blessing and not a curse.

A Sun was written by Chung Mong-Hong and Chang Yaosheng, Produced by Yeh Jufeng, Tseng Shao-Chien,  and releases in Taiwan theatres on November 1, 2019.

Rating: 8/10  Images courtesy of TIFF.