Edward Yang’s Thriller ‘A Brighter Day’ Is Guaranteed To Keep You On The Edge Of Your Seat

All my creativity seems to bust out of its dormant state during the examination season. I practise my piano, I make progress in the new language I promised myself I’d learn during the summer and most importantly, I think about movies. It isn’t a productive preparatory leave unless I think about Edward Yang’s 1991 masterpiece, “A Brighter Summer Day”. There are so many facets to this film that make it worth your time. I don’t even know where to begin.

The movie’s English title “A Brighter Summer Day” doesn’t give out much about what the movie is about. The Chinese title, “The Murder at Guling Street” should give one a better idea about the movie. The movie begins on a very lackadaisical note with a man negotiating with someone to get his son a place in the day school. The movie, as the audience gets to know, is about the adventures his son, Xiao Si’r has after transferring to the ‘night school’ where kids with relatively poor scores study. There, surrounded by the members of the local ‘the little Park gang’, he ends up in the middle of the gang’s activities. The gang, just like him, is going through a period of change, as the lack of a leader makes them vulnerable to tensions within the group and attack from other local gangs.

The gang becomes an outlet for all of Si’r’s suppressed emotional turmoils. As he watches the reality of the times through the gang activities, he goes through a range of emotions that finally take control of his life towards the end. This movie is no doubt set in a time of war and uncertainty. The insecurity felt by the adults is faced by the teenagers as well. These teenagers join and form gangs to find a sense of belonging and reliance. This often demands loyalty, and these kids, in their vulnerable and slightly unhinged phases, give their loyalty to the gang and get involved in activities that they shouldn’t. The importance of the storyline is replaced by the story itself. Yang, through his cinematography, gives us a story with a lot of blank spaces to fill and make it our own. The movie remains in one’s mind weeks later and makes us wonder how it struck a chord in us.

The psychology portrayed in this movie is brilliant and accurate. There is not one moment in the movie where the audience questions the character development of the various people in the film. The four-hour movie uses time to its advantage and is generous in providing time to the very necessary blank spaces. The director pauses and gives a perspective of things in a raw manner, sans the dramatised or staged window given in movies otherwise to perpetuate the plot in one way. The lack of a soundtrack only speaks volumes on how raw and subtle the movie is. The use of sound, lighting, frames, and symmetry in the movie is bound to get one hooked to Edward Yang.

Despite the quiet, and as I have stated many times before, subtle filmmaking, I was sitting on the edge of my seat all through the movie. There are scenes whose dramatisation lies in its nudity. In the beginning, when a boy of 14 or 15 hits another of 12 with a brick on his face, the realness of the scene punches you straight in the face. You can’t help but flinch, but you keep watching, drawn in by the lack of change in the tone of the scene. There is so much violence in this movie that is presented without much cover that it doesn’t scar you, but it does make you feel for not only the victim but also the perpetrator. It makes you feel for both sides and accept it as something of the everyday. Similarly, on the other end of the spectrum, there is a scene where our protagonist goes on a date and, afterward, kisses his date as if it was a requirement more than anything else. The scene, despite making one squirm in their seats also bleeds with the reluctance and the reservation that the 13-year-old boy faces. The scene captures the sort of get-it-over-with feeling most teenagers even today face, with their first kiss, or more accurately their first anything that is borne out of a sense of obligation rather than genuine curiosity.

This scene also brings out another reason why the movie was so stimulating. The psychology portrayed, despite showing the progress of extreme cases, is universal. The turmoils faced by the characters is something that most people face even today. Knowing that our mental delusions and struggles can lash out in murder is scary, but that realisation helps us view the characters as an extension of ourselves. We feel the pain and confusion faced by the characters at a higher emotional level. Through the movie, we are given a pedestal to watch our own mistakes and actions. Whether you are a teenager or an adult, you are reminded of the times you acted like an irrational person because of your insecurities, of the times you looked at someone hoping they’d understand what you felt, of the times you had to choose to overlook things and deal with the repercussions later on your own, and mostly, of the times you sat and stared at the helplessness in you.

Visually, this movie is perfect. I felt like one of the judges who gave Nadia Comaneci a 10/10 for her floor routine. I couldn’t find any fault. Everything was used to perfection. The set designed by Edward Yang uses light touches of detail to give a notion about the cultural influence at that time. The whole movie is wrapped together like a poem to truly make the movie tug at your heartstrings. The geometry in the set helps us focus on certain props while giving a visual treat to our eyes. The scene where Xiao Si’r first meets Ming, the female protagonist helps explain the use of visual stimuli in the movie. He meets her while he goes to the nurse’s office to get a shot for his eyes. He walks in and sees a girl standing with her skirt pulled up as she gets treatment for her injured leg. One can feel his judgment as he tries to make sense of her and where he knows her from. Although he doesn’t glance at her for no more than a minute, the story the director is trying to tell you is quite understood. Later in the movie, the courting styles employed by various boys around Ming gets more and more discrete but we, like the spectators in the movie and Xiao Si’r, see her as the ‘perceived teenage harlot’ as she teases boys, while understanding what led her to be perceived this way.

It won’t be justified if I don’t talk about the use of sound in the film. The lack of a soundtrack is hidden as Yang makes use of all the background voices to not only dissolve the scene but also to bring out the realness he is trying to portray via the film. The story portrayed is nothing but an explanation for what happened that eventually led to a murder. Through the movie, Yang tries to justify the murderer’s actions and give a reasonable explanation as to why things ended the way they did.

Watch this movie with whoever you want. There is no explicit nudity or violence. Although making children watch this would be forcing them to go through a scarring psychological thriller they might not understand and aren’t ready to go through yet. Watch it on a Sunday afternoon when you have nothing to do, and perhaps you may just feel a bit wiser. I would, a hundred percent, recommend this movie to anyone who asks, but the psychological impact would be heavy and make you think about things you always avoided. Hence, watch at your own comfort and know, despite everything, the movie is worth it. It is nothing less than a true work of art.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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