“A Sun” is a 2019 film from director Chung Mong-Hong (鍾孟宏), dealing with family relationships, crime and redemption.
The English title, I think is a play on the sounds Sun/Son, as the father in the film, a driving instructor, always says he has only one (a) son when asked by nosy older female students about his family, although the referent changes from one son to the other as the film progresses, first due to his disappointment at his younger son’s failure in school and criminal acts, then due to his elder son’s suicide. The Chinese title 「陽光普照」 (the sun shines over all things) is more a reflection on both sons growing up in the same environment, but having drastically different personal outcomes. The story has echoes of the parable of the two sons in the Bible, in terms of traditional filial expectations:
“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons. He came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he repented, and went. He came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir!’ but went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father?”
Jesus said to them, “Verily I say unto you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. When you saw it, you didn’t even repent afterward, that you might believe him.”
At first, it appears that A-he is the son who has turned from the path his father wants for him. He gets involved with a dodgy friend, Cai-tou, who goes too far in trying to intimidate someone and lands them both in prison by cutting off the guy’s hand. The family also find out that A-he impregnated his girlfriend not long before going into prison. His brother, on the other hand, has perfect grades and is the apple of his father’s eye. In the end, however, it is A-he who ends up working hard at two jobs, marrying and having a son, while the elder son takes his own life, seemingly due to a combination of being bad at talking to girls, rejection from his brother and the pressure his dad puts on him. Both sons are led to completely different outcomes by the same circumstances, and neither is happy.
Although the film has been described to me as highlighting the value of perseverance, this interpretation is thrown into question by the final twist. The only reason Caitou doesn’t succeed in destroying A-he’s attempt to rebuild his life and drawing him back into the criminal underworld, is that A-he’s father murders him. This seems an unlikely outcome in reality, and one might imagine many young offenders like A-he just getting pulled back into crime. The difficulty in finding redemption for people just released from jail is showcased by the series of interviews A-he goes to, just to be rejected when he tells them where he’s been for the last year and a half. Even A-he’s dad’s job is put into jeopardy by the appearance of Caitou’s dad at his workplace, desperate to find money to pay compensation to the victims. This was another interesting aspect of the film, in that the financial repercussions of criminal acts in Taiwan often fall on the families of the perpetrator.
Overall it is a very compelling film and well-shot. I think there could have been more resolution over the brother’s storyline, as I think the suicide was a little too easy and cliché in terms of Taiwanese drama. The appearance of the ghost of the brother bringing father and son together was also my least favourite part of the film, but led to one of my favourite scenes, when the son served the father in the Family Mart.
Definitely worth watching 5/5