In a refreshing departure from his gloomy and sexist Blue Cha-Cha (深海), director Cheng Wen-tang's (鄭文堂) teen drama Summer's Tail (夏天的尾巴) is a surprisingly bright production. Credit for the youthful feel of the film goes to the director's 20-year-old daughter, Enno Cheng (鄭宜農), who co-wrote the script and lead the cast to tell a Taiwanese coming-of-age story.
The film is about four high school kids and one summer of rock 'n' roll, friendship and puppy love.
Would-be rock star Yvette (played by Enno Cheng) is a free-spirited, big-hearted teen forced to drop out of school because of a congenital heart disorder. Her best friend, Wendy (Hannah Lin, 林涵), is a straight-A student who carries a spray paint spray can in her schoolbag. Reticent and super-smart, Jimmy (Bryant Jui-chia Chang, 張睿家) is expelled when his love for a teacher gets out of hand. Japanese exchange student Akira (Dean Fujioka) plays soccer and doesn't do much else.
The four idle away the summer with music, adolescent melancholy and laughter in southern Taiwan's verdant rice fields and canals. When a tragedy involving a neighbor occurs, the four friends are catapulted into the grown-up world.
The plot, though hardly groundbreaking, is well executed with eloquent cinematography and smooth editing. The island's southern plains never looked so idyllic and the film's breezy tone lures the audience into drifting from one scene to the next.
The pretty-faced young cast does a reasonably good job of portraying adolescents trying to define themselves as they approach adulthood. Award-winning actress Lu Yi-ching (陸弈靜) deserves a special mention for bringing to life possibly the most lovable mother figure seen in Taiwanese cinema for years.
Summer’s Tail (夏天的尾巴)
Directed by: Cheng Wen-tang (鄭文堂)
Starring: Enno Cheng (鄭宜農) as Yvette, Bryant Jui-chia Chang (張睿家)as Jimmy, Hannah Lin (林涵) as Wendy, Dean Fujioka as Akira
Language: In Mandarin with English subtitles
Running time: 99 minutes
Taiwan release: Today
However, the real star of the film is Enno Cheng (鄭宜農). Nominated for the Best New Performer gong at this year's Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎) for her role in this film, the versatile young artist turns in a strong performance and shines both as a promising actress and talented singer. Featuring simple, empowering tunes by the aspiring musician, as well as local rock outfits Aphasia (阿飛西雅), Orange Grass (橙草樂團) and Fire Extinguisher (滅火器), the sound track lends the work juvenile vigor and almost justifies the closing sequence that includes a music-video set.
A competent movie, Summer's Tail proves that a familiar if not formulaic coming-of-age story line can be a commercial success, as long as the movie stars teen idols, has strong technical credits, and perhaps most importantly, portrays a young adult's firsthand perspective.