Eye For Film >> Movies >> Salute! Sun Yat-Sen (2014) Film Review
Salute! Sun Yat-Sen
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
In the British tradition, the crime caper has long been an established way of commenting on inequality and the struggles of those on the bottom rung of the social ladder. In this, his third feature, writer/director Chih-yen Yee gives us a Taiwanese take on the form. It's much artier, with more focus on production quality and less on character, but it's equally potent in its way and is lent depth by the context of the economic slowdown and its crushing impact on the island nation - especially the young.
It makes sense for a young genre to begin with young people, and so we meet Lefty (Zhan Huai-ting) and his gang of four, schoolboys with a plan to prise their way out of poverty. From the opening shot, in which row upon row of boys in neat white uniforms appear to be asleep in class, it's clear that this isn't going to be a straightforward telling. They're uninterested in school, perhaps because they suspect that the education it offers can do nothing to improve their prospects, but they're still anxious to find the money for their school fees as everybody works hard to maintain the illusion that nothing is amiss. Lefty's discovery of a forgotten bronze statue in the school's store cupboard seems like salvation. They hatch an elaborate plan to steal it. Unfortunately for them, a rival gang, led by the charismatic Sky (Matthew Wei), is planning the same thing. A battle of wits begins.
In a twisting tale of poorly thought-out schemes, emotive appeals and double crosses, the focus is primarily on the bumbling comedy, but we are never allowed to forget where the boys come from. Poverty, homelessness and domestic violence are never far from view. Toward the end, the boys try to unravel what it was that brought them to this - the legacy of generations past - and balance it against their own responsibility, which in turn raises questions about their agency, their ability to secure a brighter future. The whole adventure is a learning process; will it ultimately prove to be the way they develop the skills that can make a difference?
Unknown to them, perhaps because of their sleeping in class, the statue they have set their sights on is a representation of Dr. Sun, the Chinese revolutionary hero still celebrated in Taiwan as the father of the nation. With his book in hand, he appears as a teacher - but is he teaching lessons their school would approve of, or has he inspired them, in more ways than one, to break the rules? Through their uneasy interactions, one thing the boys do begin to appreciate is the value of loyalty - of comradeship. Perhaps they will become the heroes of their generation, or perhaps they'll go on to revolutionise crime. Chih-yen Yee's ending is clearly a beginning. This ostensibly simple film, with is splashes of absurdist humour, has a lot going on beneath the surface.
Salute! Sun Yat-Sen will be released on DVD on July 27.Reviewed on: 25 May 2015