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Bryan Shu-Hao Chang,
Lun Mei Gwei
Winds of September is the first - Taiwanese - part in a trilogy on youth friendship. Following this film are parts set in China and Hong Kong, helmed by different directors but handling the same theme. All films are produced by Eric Tsang who also took up a small role in this film, but international meddling or not, in the end Winds of September is still very much a Taiwanese film.
Taiwanese cinema is dominated by a typical style of drama films. Slowly Taiwanese directors are trying to break away from those boundaries, but the road is long and progress is slow. Not that they are bad films, I actually like them a lot, it's just that it would do the Taiwanese film industry good to diversify a little. Winds of September makes a small but worthwhile effort.
The film does not wildly differ from its peers but the first part in particular feels more modern and free. Taiwanese drama is the home ground of timid acting, wide landscapes and soothing piano music. While all of that is still prominently featured in the second half, the first part isn't restricted to just that, giving us a different (and more realistic I think) view of youth culture in Taiwan.
The film follows a group of students united by their loyalty for each other. It is never really disclosed how they all came together, but it's made clear that they form a pretty tight pack of friends. Like most boys they like to fool around, going for nightly skinny dips in the school pool and similar boyish antics. Still, discipline is strict where they live and it doesn't take them long to face expulsion on repeated offense.
Interwoven with the main story is a little love triangle between Yen, boss of the group, his girlfriend who tries to break lose of him and Tang, Yen's best friend. It's the first crack which will break up the unity of the group and will scatter the members to go and live their own lives. Nothing new thematically speaking, but executed well with much attention to even the smallest of details.
Lin makes sure to give each member of the group its own part in the film. All characters add to the group and bring their own merit to the film. It is a tad less dramatic than most of its predecessors too, making it possible for the audience to enjoy most of the groups goofing around without too much worry for drama. There's a very nice boys be boys atmosphere flowing through the film which adds a lot to its charm.
Camera work is strong and tight, though some part are a little more hectic than you would expect from a film like this. Same goes for the music which dares to deviate from the piano score, though not always. It gives the film a more modern, contemporary feel (even though it is set 10 years back). When the drama shifts gears it seems that old habits die hard (and soft piano tunes even harder), but at least the global feel of the film is a little different than I am used to.
I might come off a little negative towards Taiwanese dramas, which is really not my intention. I really love 'em the way they are, but on the other hand they are becoming pretty predictable in subject and atmosphere. Winds of September is not among the best of them but it does deserve applause for at least being a little different from the rest.
Apart from that, it's a very solid film with strong acting all around, some very strong shots and camera work and a pretty touching story about a group of kids growing up. A simple film but stylishly executed. 4.0*/5.0*
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