Criterion Prediction #132: That Day on the Beach, by Alexander Miller
Title: That Day on the Beach
Director: Edward Yang
Cast: Sylvia Chang, Terry Wu, Hsu Ming, David Mao
Synopsis: After thirteen years, estranged friends Chia-il (Chang) and Chin-chin (Terry Wu) reunite and recollect their friendship and the subsequent time that has brought them to their current state.
Critique: When I started with the films of the New Taiwanese Cinema, it was love at first sight. Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin (favorite film of 2015) lured me in, and then the work of Tsai Ming-liang and Edward Yang made me realize that this affair wasn’t a mere fling but an occasion to settle down for a long-term union. There are cultural and political dimensions, but they’re attuned to the atmospheric juxtaposition of neon-lit streets and foggy beaches; tonally they keep you captive in a dream state but achieve this with airless restraint.
All of Edward Yang’s titles feel epic in some capacity. On the surface, his ambitions serve the long runtimes of his work; but thematically there’s an intimate, measured, and personal momentum in his movies that evoke a mournful and rewarding emotional response. Given his singular and consistent vision, it’s not a surprise that Yang’s feature debut, That Day on the Beach, clocks in at nearly three hours and bears the director’s oblique emphasis on the nature of personal relationships and the fleeting transience of time. The film is centered and focused, utilizing a nonlinear flashback structure that elaborates the emotional complexities of its characters whose lives are shaped by the changing social climate of Taiwan, adhering to class roles and the influence of western culture. Chia-li and Chin-chin’s encounter after years of estrangement isn’t about reconciliation. The underlying potency in Yang’s cinema is that best way to lens life, and its uncertainties is to create space and time to observe.
While the broad scale of his later work became more fluent, That Day on the Beach does have some slack moments where you can certainly feel the runtime drag. It’s still a rewarding and potent experience though. Sylvia Chang’s performance as the disenchanted Chia-il is standout, and the film is not only a celebrated debut from Yang – it’s also Christopher Doyle’s first outing as a cinematographer, and the visual prowess is visible throughout.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: Well, the primary rationale for the inclusion of That Day on the Beach is that it’s a strong debut from a celebrated filmmaker such as Edward Yang, whose work is a standout element in Criterion’s catalog. But the reason why Yang’s That Day on the Beach is more and more of a curiosity lately is because there’s a Blu-ray quality (1080p) version of the film ready and waiting from its Asian Blu-ray release, which is a surprise since it was relegated to practically lost status with a few VHS quality rips with indecipherable subtitles for so long. As Criterion has previously released Yi Yi and A Brighter Summer Day in excellent editions, and Taipei Story as part of their World Cinema Foundation box sets, hopefully they’ll take on That Day on the Beach as well.