In modern Taiwanese cinema, 1982-83 was a watershed period, when the earliest developed works of Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien were made, ushering in the Taiwanese New Wave. These two filmmakers were born the same year (1947), but the latter began with a number of fairly mainstream features before moving towards the style and themes he would later develop with The Boys from Fengkuei (1983). And although That Day, on the Beach is hardly Yang’s finest work, it marks a departure from the earlier cinema of Taiwan, which I’ve already covered examples of, in thrall to the popular cinemas of the mainland (China and Hong Kong).
Edward Yang’s debut film feels too long, but it’s trying to tell a big story — about growing up, after all, and about finding one’s place in the world. There’s an ambitious structure too: when a renowned concert pianist (Terry Hu) returns to Taiwan, the sister of her first boyfriend (played by the great Sylvia Chang) gets in touch, and when they meet they share memories. However, within these reminiscences of their childhood are embedded all kinds of memories and flashbacks, and eventually the structure becomes fractured by all these different levels of time and subjectivity, so already you can see some of the threads Yang would pursue in his subsequent filmmaking. It’s a beautifully-shot film as well (one of Christopher Doyle’s earliest projects), and for all its epic length, never feels dull or boring. That said, it’s not perfect, and aside from feeling like there’s a tighter story in there, as well as some slightly wayward sound editing, there’s also at least one actor (the ladies’ man and boss, Ah Tsai) who seems to be acting in a different film, maybe more of a soap opera — indeed, there’s a lot of melodrama bursting to get out which Yang does his best to restrain through underplaying the drama and removing most of the musical cues. Still, it’s a great debut and a harbinger of the coming ‘Taiwanese New Wave’, in which Yang would be a key figure.
Director Edward Yang 楊德昌; Writers Wu Nien-jen 吳念真 and Yang; Cinematographers Hui Kung Chang 張惠恭 and Christopher Doyle 杜可風; Starring Sylvia Chang 張艾嘉, Terry Hu 胡因夢; Length 166 minutes.
Seen at Close-Up Cinema, London, Friday 14 June 2019.