Film Review: Winds of September

Film Review: Winds of September

Each generation of youth in Taiwan deserves its own movie, a paean to the times, to the challenges they faced. Director Tom Lin does this for a group of nine high schoolers living on the edges of Hsin Chu city in northern Taiwan. The cultural landscape of mid-1990s Taiwan is all there: cigarettes, baseball, girls, fights, pool halls, motorbikes. And like Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, tragedy lurks behind it all, and the forces of fate test the bonds of friendship.

It’s not as if this turf hasn’t been covered before, but Winds of September does make a worthwhile successor to this sub-genre. Beautifully shot in some kind of eternal spring/autumn where there is always a gentle breeze and it’s never too cold to go skinny-dipping.

Winds of September manages to walk the tight rope between slow arthouse film and something more commercial, and while it doesn’t have the blockbuster potential of Cape No. 7, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, or despite the tragedy at the center of the film, get too dark. The film’s most impressive feat is in its pacing and exposition: the deft interweaving of both dramatically light and dark scenes, humor to leaven tension, and no untoward attempts on the audience’s heartstrings. The movie begins with nine undifferentiated characters, and while you have your instantly recognizable stud, nerd, hooligan, fat kid, and pretty girl character types, they do, through each scene, outgrow the cardboard-cutout version of themselves, developing into distinct personalities, with their own thoughts about what the bonds of friendship mean and what responsibilities and obligations they, as friends, have towards each other.

Director Tom Lin has worked as an assistant director for Tsai Ming-liang and Winds is his second feature, part of Hong Kong actor Eric Tsang’s series of three films, all set in different Asian countries, but all telling the same basic story of the vicissitudes of youth and friendship.

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