Three Summers

Reviewed by YTSL

There are quite a few things that this Taiwan-Hong Kong collaborative effort has got in its favor.  Chief among them is a very nice end sequence:  Complete with an (actually completely English subtitled) end song whose lyrics are as alternately wistful and encouraging as its tune is lyrical; accompanied by wonderful aerial and scenic views of largely rural Lantau Island along with a final lingering shot of the individual who looms large in the life of the narrator.  It is one which this (re)viewer would rank up there with the best of (Hong Kong) movie endings in its ability to evoke precisely the kind of bitter-sweet emotions that can feel so powerful and "real".

THREE SUMMERS also benefits from having major acting talents at its service.  Although sweet-faced Wu Chien-Lien and the charismatic Veronica Yip do feature in the 100 minute length offering, I am actually referring more here to the two people whose characters' stories are at the heart of this rural "coming of age" drama:  Debut-making and Hong Kong Film Awards Best Newcomer nominee, Cherie Chan, an actual Lantau Island villager playing one whose life is affected by urban folk -- including a New Zealand resident and a man originally from the U.S.A. as well as visitors from more built up parts of Hong Kong -- in addition to her fellow villagers; and Tony Leung Chiu Wai, an A list actor who is immensely convincing in his role as the elder brother who is idolized as well as loved by his younger sibling but has worries and frustrations of his own.
Tony Leung and Veronica Yip
In such as director Lawrence Ah Mon and executive producer Sylvia Chang, there also are quite a few respected names in the crew list of this earnest feeling production.  This notwithstanding, my sense is that there could have been a better script than that which has been co-credited to the director (whose "Gangs" and "Spacked Out" make a strong case for the South African-born man's being a most expert chronicler of Hong Kong youth), executive producer (one of whose previous co-scriptwriting as well as on-screen efforts had been "All About Ah Long"), Cheung Tat Ming and Bill Yip.
Wu Chien-lien and Cherie Chan
To be sure, Ah Mon and Co. deserve some praise for their decision to pay attention to socially responsible people -- including an interracial couple (referred to in the English subtitles as Mr. and Mrs. Veggie!) in charge of an experimental environmentalist educational project whose main participants are urban high schoolers -- who are not usually represented in (Hong Kong) movies.  It also was interesting to see points being made about time irrevocably changing people as well as healing the emotional and physical wounds who need to go on with their lives.  However, the obviously well intentioned script and movie could have done with some time-saving trimming and better linkage (the film's rather disjointed feel might or might not have been due to its focusing on events occuring over a single season of three years).  THREE SUMMERS also suffers from certain situations depicted in it feeling too moralistic or good to ring true (though I did think that the sections featuring the monk friend of Ah Wai were well done).
Then there were the rather hackneyed bids to introduce danger and glamour into otherwise fairly mundane proceedings by way of having people be involved in love triangles -- or, in Wu Chien Lien's Flora's case, a love quadrangle -- and a key individual's crossing the paths of Triads while in the city (Trivia note:  Paul Fonoroff reported that the Hong Kong title for the film had been changed to highlight this secondary element even while the Taiwanese stuck with the Chinese version of THREE SUMMERS).  Still, those who thrill at the prospect of seeing Veronica Yip and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in a love scene that came about from that venture might not complain too much about this!
Fans of the sultry actress ought to be warned though that she is more a guest star than major player in this message- and issue-oriented movie.  Similarly, Wu admirers should note that the Taiwanese beauty really doesn't get that much opportunity to shine in THREE SUMMERS.  Rather, Lantau Island is highlighted more:  With life there forming a great part of the main story rather than just the backdrop; and the scenes of Tai O village elders gossiping while playing mahjong, children flying kites by the pier, a dragon boat race and the transportation of a religious statue to a new home being as lovingly filmed as either Wu's famous face or Yip's infamous body.  For these and other reasons, my sense is that this 1992 work is not going to appeal to that many (overseas) Hong Kong movie fans.  However those looking for a change of pace and scenery could do worse than to check out this rather atypical offering.

My rating for the film:  6.5