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New Release Review - SALUTE! SUN YAT-SEN (DVD)

To fund their tuition, a group of schoolboys attempt to steal a bronze statue from their high school.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Chih-yen Yee

Starring: Bryan Shu-Hao Chang, Hsiao-chuan Chang, Honduras, Wei-Jie Hu



"Chih-yen Yee has fashioned his film in a way that will appeal to a child audience more effectively than adults, thanks to the political subtext, which feels didactic and forced in a way children won't notice."



Like a Taiwanese riff on Bill Forsyth's 1979 debut That Sinking Feeling, in which a bunch of unemployed Glasgow teens attempted to pull off a robbery of stainless steel sinks, Chih-yen Yee's Salute! Sun Yat-Sen gives us a similarly broke gang of youths sucked into an ill-thought out robbery. It's a sign of how the world has been effected by the economic crisis that filmmakers in an Asian nation known for its prosperity should look to British social realism movies made during a past depression for inspiration.
The film opens in a classroom where all the boys seem to be asleep at their desks. We quickly learn they're faking it to avoid facing a teacher's reminder of their overdue school fees, which none of the youths can afford, thanks to their lower working class backgrounds. When Lefty, the self-appointed leader of a gang of boys, stumbles across a bronze statue of Dr Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of Taiwan (please correct me if my limited knowledge of Chinese history is incorrect here), hidden away in a school closet, he sees an opportunity to end his financial woes. Enlisting his friends, Lefty sets in motion a plan to steal the statue and sell it for scrap.
The plan seems all set to go smoothly until Lefty realises another boy, Sky, has also set his sights on the statue. In the movie's most poignant scene, the two boys argue over who deserves the statue most, each setting out to prove their economic situation is in a worse state than their rival. Seeing how much they have in common, existing on the bottom rung of society's ladder, Lefty and Sky call a truce, deciding to work together; but can they be trusted?
Chih-yen Yee has fashioned his film in a way that will appeal to a child audience more effectively than adults, thanks to the political subtext, which feels didactic and forced in a way children won't notice. The young actors are charming, but the movie never engages enough to make us genuinely care about the outcome of the heist, despite its clear ramifications, and Yee's primary coloured, neon-splashed Taipei lacks the visual melancholy of Forsyth's Glasgow.



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