The Longest Summer



Reviewed by YTSL

On July 1st 1997, Hong Kong was handed back over to China by the British.  Three months before the actual official Handover was enacted, the Hong Kong Military Service Corps -- which had been in existence for 140 years -- was disbanded.  Former soldiers found themselves having to come to terms with being civilians in an economic battlefield of a world, full of people who only felt certain about it being one which was changing and replete with complicated folks convinced that money was what was needed to keep on going plus help them feel more psychologically secure as well as physically comfortable.  Feeling abandoned as well as betrayed by their colonial masters (to whom they had pledged allegiance and to fight others for, if necessary), many of them struggled to cope in times when being honorable was much less valued than the ability to make "fast money" (even by their parents, who had previously taught them otherwise).

The story of one such individual -- a former army sergeant named Ga Yin (who is portrayed by Tony Ho) -- is at the center of THE LONGEST SUMMER, director and scriptwriter Fruit Chan's 1998 film.  Bar for that which makes up a short postscript of sorts, all the real-life plus fictitious events that get covered in this incredibly wide-ranging work -- much of which nevertheless either directly or indirectly involve the movie's quietly desperate and despairing main character, four of his (ex-)military buddies (whose monikers are Bobby, Gary, Wai and Pang), his skinny younger brother (Ga Suen -- AKA "Chopstick" -- is played by Sam Lee) and/or a young woman whose path criss-crosses with his and the others in unanticipated ways (Jo Kuk made her big screen debut here as Jane) -- are stated in intertitles to have occurred between 3rd April and 25th September 1997.
THE LONGEST SUMMER starts off with some rather novel -- including in terms of their not commonly featuring in Hong Kong movies -- imagery that is accompanied by a combination of English language voice-over, the singing of "Auld Lang Syne" and sounds that do not constitute words.  Throughout, certain almost surreal recurring elements -- particularly with regards to gaggles of misbehaving schoolgirls -- plus truly interesting documentary-style footage -- which captured for posterity such as the People's Liberation Army's troop movement through Hong Kong streets along with the fireworks displays that commemorated the official opening of the Tsing Ma suspension bridge as well as the formal Handover ceremony -- make appearances in that whose Chinese title literally translates into English as "Lots of Fireworks Last Year"(!).
In general though, much of this Andy Lau executive produced film's first hour seemed to move along fairly conventional lines; not least with Ga Yin being shown doing such as acquiring Underworld connections via his Triad brother.  Even the ex-soldier's decision -- along with four of his similarly impoverished comrades as well as the younger sibling who his ultra-pragmatic father had urged him to learn from -- to come by a large amount of cash by way of robbing a bank (which, following the stipulation of one particularly embittered man, had to be a British one) was not one which looked like it was going to necessarily lead THE LONGEST SUMMER down a particularly extraordinary route.  However, as it turned out, this post-modern appearing offering's second hour most certainly does end up going in diverse and often not very predictable -- plus some actually downright hard to follow -- directions.
For the most part, I respect -- and wished to be receptive to -- what Fruit Chan sought to majorly do with the undeniably thought-provoking THE LONGEST SUMMER:  I.e., make certain insightful plus topical comments about Hong Kong, and its inhabitants, in the period surrounding the historic Handover; an event about which many Hong Kongers -- who didn't feel British yet also not 100% Chinese (and most certainly not Communist) -- had quite a few trepidations (not least after the events that occured in Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989).  Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that the auteur made the mis-step of trying to cover too much ground in what was, after all, only the third effort that he helmed, and thereby ended up with a too disjointed cinematic piece that hits some targets -- and even a smattering of bulls-eyes -- but also missed a few others (which it ought not have also given attention to and thus been distracted by).

My rating for this film:  7.



DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

The transfer is fine - clean and sharp.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks.

The subtitles are Chinese or English.

8 Chapters

There is a trailer for this film, but none for any others.