With the increasing number of new releases each week it is harder for smaller and non English language films to make it to big screen. More and more films now go down the route of DVD premieres and VOD releases. The quality of some of the films has helped to elevate the reputation of non cinema premieres, moving away from the image of the cheap and nasty movies that eventually end up on the more obscure cable channels. A film to go down this route is the 2014 Taiwanese film Salute! Sun Yat-Sen from award winning director Yee Chih-Yen.
Lefty (Zhan Huai-Yun) is a high school student in a dilemma. His school fees are overdue and he has no way of paying them. Unable to ask his grandmother who has no money he comes up with a scheme that might just work. In a store room in the school he spies a bronze statute of Dr Sun Yat-Sen which Lefty knows could fetch a lot of money. He formulates a detailed plan to steal the statue with the help of three similarly cash strapped friends. As the night of the theft draws near Lefty discovers that another boy, Sky (Wei Han-Ting), has a similar plan. Trying to enlist Sky into the gang fails and the now rival criminal masterminds are in competition to see who can get the statue first.
The film was a bit of a surprise and far exceeded my expectations. it is a cross between a screwball comedy, a heist film and a social drama. It has a good structure which sets up the action quickly and allows space for the comedy to unfold. The character of Lefty is the centrepiece of the film. It is him that the story revolves around. He is in charge. He has the ideas an is a natural born leader. Using wit and resourcefulness he is able to bring all the necessary elements together to pull it off. There is a sequence where he puts together the plan, working out how to move the statue and what the gang will need to carry out the theft. They basically do a dry run with an invisible statue. It is assuming to see them simulate struggling with an invisible weight on an invisible trolley.
As well as the comedy aspect the theme of poverty runs through the film. It is the catalyst for the theft and it informs the motivations of the characters. They are all doing it through necessity. This undertaking is so the protagonists can stay in education, not for some criminal pursuit. The message is clear. In order to grow, education is the top priority. This film examines some of the compromises that have to be made to try to make a better future.
The film has a very distinctive look. A lot of the action is shot at night and the streets of Tapai have a rich and textured look to them. it fits in well with the story and the fact that the boys are using the night as cover for their activities. look out for a fight sequence in the film. it has obviously been given a lot of thought as actors involved make it look like a real fight. There are no fancy moves and as with most tussles it is all arms and legs producing no clear victor.
Overall, an excellent comedy / drama that deserves your attention. Recommended. Salute! Sun Yat-Sen is available on DVD from the 31st of July 2015.