peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2024 03 10 ThatDayOnTheBeach

That Day, on the Beach (1983)

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Christopher Doyle's first feature-length cinematographic effort. Inevitable after watching the recent bio/doco/interview. He did earn his award albeit not for the innovation he spruiked: there are plenty of (standard, Western) progressions from wide/setup shots to closeups, and I doubt they were operating under any pressure from the Taiwanese authorities. Co-written and directed Edward Yang.

This is a lengthy (2 hours 46 minutes!) intricately-structured soap opera. The shallowness of the story — at times I could hope for the depths of the later The Remains of the Day and Once Upon a Time in America — is such a let down given this prolixity, masterful shifting of chronology and the evident commitment of all participants.

In brief it documents some of the breakdown of traditional family structures in Taiwanese society, specifically the passing of a medical clinic and profession from father to son and women being tasked with unifying dynasties, causing restive unhappiness in the younger generation. The son (Ming Hsiang-Tso) caves, suffers and inflicts suffering on his one-true-love girlfriend (Terry Hu) who flees to Germany to study piano. His sister (Sylvia Chang) flees to Taipei to take up with her sort-of boyfriend (David Mao). She ultimately finds some kind of liberation but the framing story of the two women meeting again 13 years after the pianist fled is strange: so much of the story is irrelevant to her, especially as she has a big concert that evening.

The wheels totally fell off for me when Chang asks Mao's mistress/office wife (a foxy on-the-make Yan Feng-chiao) if she loves him. At this point we're pretty sure Chang doesn't: an early scene has a wilful school friend (Lee Lieh) advising her that Mao is a sure thing that will never leave her, and he proves to be her ticket out of the family strictures. Soon enough they argue in that way married couples do and she wants him to spend more time with her but his diagnosis seems about right: she's under occupied and should've acquired more skills. (It's unclear how competent she is in her foreign language as the one boss she has is unimpressed with her work. The flower arranging is presented as nothing more than a housewife hobby.) And perhaps he does force her to take responsibility for her freedom after the mysterious happening on the beach.

I found it hard to be sympathetic to these characters with such vacuous lives. I didn't and don't know what would have made them function better; this pursuit of happiness farrago proved too amorphous despite all the layering. Speaking of which, all the ladies sport Princess Di's signature feathered hairdo except for Chang when she decides she might need to find a new man. Also they tend to start smoking when things aren't going well.

Cinema Omnivore: I too felt that Terry Hu was squandered. We hardly hear about her time abroad. And what was with the frosty Germanic personal assistant? Nick Kouhi. Pat Graham: familiar from countless Barbara Stanwyck sagas of the 50s (!). And so on.