Another one of these down-tempo Taiwanese dramas? In a sense, but one that quite openly deals with male homosexuality. A subject still prone to shock in some parts of our world. Apart from that, Eternal Summer simply proves to be among the best of its peers, enough reason to put it in the spotlight.
Leste Chen started out with Heirloom, a stylish and atmopsheric horror flick that didn't revolve around gore or scares. Such films are pretty hard to market so it wasn't too surprising his first didn't land him much success. Eternal Summer is a very different film and reaches out to a more typical Taiwanese arthouse crowd. Much easier to sell and so the praise he received for it was accordingly. The world isn't fair, nothing much you can do about that.
Even though Eternal Summer is considered gay-themed, it's actually a bit more complex than that. Central to the story are three characters who form a perfect love triangle. Carrie loves Jonathan who quickly discovers his heart lies elsewhere. He is secretly in love with his best pal Shane, while Shane is slowly falling for the charms of Carrie. Enough romantic troubles for a solid 90 minutes of film.
The plot thickens as the relationships between the three become more complex. Plenty of opportunities for melodrama and epic emotions, but Chen keeps everything under control, maintaining a somewhat lighter atmosphere and playing down some of the more emotional scenes. Not as drastic as seen in Japanese cinema, but it's nice to see these themes handled without 90 minutes of aching sobs and puppy eyes.
Chen is obviously raised on Taiwanese aesthetics. Even though his visual style is more colorful and a tad more stylized, some very typical Taiwanese elements surface in this film. Mainly the day scenes in nature, combining vivid blues and greens, will appear very familiar to fans of Taiwanese cinema. Visually Eternal Summer is a little more varied though, sporting some truly stunning shots and scenes with strong singular colors. Not the major leap in style that some others made, but good progression nonetheless.
The soundtrack brings a similar experience. Mostly subdued piano music weaving a nice setting but feeling just a little too familiar, though from time to time Chen shift gears to music with more balls. In particular the track during the party scene, pretty cool stuff. Acting is very strong too, all three main characters putting in very solid performances. Not the easiest of parts as some on-screen openness was required, but the three of them handle it extremely well.
Eternal Summer is a pretty straightforward arthouse film, but one that does things just a little better than average and gives you these tiny flashes of brilliance which lift it above the competition. Just don't expect anything earth shattering. I'm pretty sure this film won't convert many people to Taiwanese cinema, but for those who already have a soft spot for it Eternal Summer will come as a welcome addition to the collection.
After only two films Chen is well on his way to become a personal favorite. He has a keen eye and is quite versatile. Eternal Summer is a light-hearted, dramatic and somewhat dreamy film about three kids that share a little too much love for each other. A strong blend of puberal wonder and melancholic musings