An emotionally complex tale of a family told with skill and depth by Chung Mong-Hong, and a worthy addition to Netflix.
New on Netflix today after enjoying a fair amount of success elsewhere, Chung Mong-Hong’s A Sun (Netflix) is a complex and emotional story of family – of coming together and breaking apart, of unmet expectations and personal failures piling atop each other until the light is barely visible behind them. It isn’t a crowd-pleaser, necessarily, but it is a stark film that rings of truth, which can be a rare thing.
Wen (Chen Yi-Wen) is a father of two. His youngest son Ho (Wu Chien-Ho) is the black sheep of the family, a violent young man sent away to a juvenile detention center for assault; his oldest, Hao (Xu Guang-Han), is the go-getting overachiever with aspirations worth nurturing, even at the expense of others. After his incarceration, Ho’s girlfriend Xiao-Yu (Wu Dai-Ling) reveals she is carrying his child and is welcomed into the family by Qin (Samantha Ko), mother of Ho and Hao.
There is much more to this story that is worth discovering on your own. But A Sun is not particularly interested in the extremes of emotion; more so the muddled grey area where hidden bitterness, jealousy, and self-loathing are left to fester. It is interested, too, in the fronts we present in order to obscure how we really feel, and what happens when those fronts either slip or are allowed to become who we are – this new, dishonest simulacrum, so convincing that we allow ourselves to believe in it.
Any frequenter of social media will have seen those memes which caution someone against judging a person on how they look, sound, or act; their internal traumas and struggles exist beneath a finely-polished façade that can’t be penetrated at a glance. There is a need in all of us, and that need – to be noticed, to be loved, to be attended to – pulses beneath A Sun like a steady heartbeat. It is the pulse of Chung’s characters; the lifeblood of his dramatic setup. What if, the film asks, that need isn’t met until it’s too late?
Grounded and naturalistic in its depiction of family, grief, loss, regret, and growth, A Sun is a film of quiet emotional power and a cautionary tale of what can happen when you fail to consider the needs of others before your own. It’s a film about empathy and a reminder that language is not our first language – it’s what we don’t say, and how we listen when nobody else is speaking, that defines how we know someone. A Sun asks if we know anyone quite well enough.