‘A Sun’ Boldly Illuminates The Lesser-Told Intricacies of Familial Love
A family of four fractures under the weight of unmet expectations, unexpected tragedy, and uncompromising pride.
Director: Chung Mong-hong
Cast: Chen Yi-wen, Samantha Shu, Wu Chien-ho, Samantha Ko, Greg Hsu, Liu Kuan-ting
Runtime: 156 minutes
With its colossal runtime and hefty themes, multiple Golden Horse Award-winner A Sun 陽光普照 is a lot to take in. Yet by its end, the film rewards its audience with a raw and unforgettable family drama, told through exquisite performances and outstanding camerawork surrounding the deceptively straight-forward motif of sunlight.
A Sun sees a Taiwanese family struggle through the lowest point of their lives. Father A-wen (Chen Yi-wen) is a straight-talking and emotionally distant driving instructor ashamed of his younger son, A-ho (Wu Chien-ho), for often being embroiled in gang-related activities. His arrest following a brutal assault proves to be the last straw for A-wen, going as far as urging the sentencing judge to put A-ho away to a juvenile detention centre for as long as he can.
A-wen, however, is doting of his elder son, A-hao (Greg Hsu), a caring high-flyer poised for medical school. His blunt attitude towards both sons contrasts with his wife Chin’s (Samantha Shu) silent dedication to the family, facing every trouble that comes their way head on with stoicism.
The film feels like a seemingly endless barrage of unhappy tidings delivered in slow-motion; never relenting up until its very last frame. Its chosen pace also means that the film is far from an emotional powerhouse, with less than a handful of blazingly affectional scenes and dramatic high points for its audience to attach to.
These are high-stakes for any film – especially one that is already bogged down by a daunting runtime. Yet, A Sun more than proves its structure to be necessary in reflecting and supporting the down-to-earth and natural growth of its characters.
Much of the film’s success in this area has to do with its award-winning cast. Backed by intimate framing, their performances allowed a peek into the family’s history and dynamics without ever directly addressing it.
Chen is spellbinding in his performance as the father, portraying a sincere and honest look at parental love while reconciling with the mistakes of his sons and of his own. While Chen wears his heart on his sleeve, Shu is faced with the extraordinarily difficult task of matching his emotional intensity without the leeway of outbursts. She plays wife Chin with exhaustion embedded in her eyes and with an icy restraint that heartbreakingly yearns for release.
The plot’s dedication to A-ho’s character arc pays clear dividends with Wu’s standout performance. With his small and unassuming stature, the film consistently shows A-ho as a victim of bad company. Wu, however, never embraces the victimhood of his character, showing unbound determination to change and to be accepted as a son. His portrayal made for an easy character to root for, keeping the audience engrossed through his various ups and downs.
Although to give it context would be to spoil a pivotal moment in the film, much of A Sun brilliantly incorporates sunlight and the weather into its storytelling – albeit, unconventionally. Here, the motif of sunlight is framed as an uncompromising illuminator of unsaid truths and emotions, with characters finding solace under shades and in darkness. Sunlight in the film feels cold, wanting and astonishingly appropriate for its melancholic plot.
A Sun, however, is not a film without its blemishes. Despite its length, there are still unresolved character threads and room for secondary characters begging for growth. While the film’s flirtation with supernatural themes compliments the narrative, the same cannot be said with its approach towards dry comedy which felt jarring and out of place. I feel that further sharpening of the script would have easily elevated the film from good to excellent.
Nevertheless, A Sun is a remarkable film, allowing itself as much time as needed to see through the growth of its characters while spectacularly punctuating each step with expert camerawork and fantastic handling of its themes. It’s a film that leaves its mark not through constant emotional whiplash, but through the patient strokes in painting its portrait of a broken family.
Catch the award-winning family drama on Netflix now.
In the meantime, watch the film’s trailer below: