Poignant and remarkable
Robert D. Harmon | Mill Valley, CA | 05/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The film speaks to universal emotions, those of family, conflict between generations, parental yearnings, aging, a sense of a familiar world vanishing into modernity. This film captures all of that, and needs little translating. I know I felt moved, and that doesn't happen easily.
Cinematically it's a remarkable triumph. The director uses color themes in a vivid and coherent way, one I can only compare to that of French director Jean Renoir. The settings capture the old courtyards of Beijing at a time when they're rapidly going under demolition, something the film uses. The story covers a tumultuous period but keeps it coherent, breaking it in three episodes: 1976, a time of political and real earthquakes; 1987, as a new Chinese way of life is emerging; 1999, in a modern Beijing that seems so unfamiliar to those who experienced the older period -- including, to some extent, this film's audience.
The director has also elicited marvelous performances from a talented cast, notably Joan Chen and Haiying Sun as mother and father, who mature -- visually and emotionally -- convincingly. He also got a strong performance out of the actors playing the son at ages 9, 19 and 32. That, and an evocative musical score, makes for an emotional experience. The viewer will come to care for these people.
The "making of" extra feature is sparse but has some good insights by the director and producer. The scenes where the director -- who lived through the 1970s -- is showing his modern child actors how to play in the old manner, is something for the film students to admire.
It's a pity this film didn't have a wider theater release, but the DVD is now on hand and deserves a wide audience."
A Slice of Chinese Culture and History Wrapped in a Wonderfu
David Crumm | Canton, Michigan | 07/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In China, there still are deep wounds from the Cultural Revolution that turned entire families topsy turvy. This was the turbulent era in the final years of Mao's life when family and friends were pushed to denounce each other and many of China's brightest and best were tortured and exiled into the countryside to perform manual labor. As families have tried to reassemble themselves in the decades since that violence, however, even traditional ideas about "home" are vanishing.
I know from my own work as a journalist reporting from Asia that, in the absence of other deeper religious practices, the basic commitment to family remains a tap root of spiritual values. But even this tap root winds up severed in these waves of cultural and social change.
That's the context of "Sunflower," a bittersweet drama that runs just over two hours. It's a gorgeously photographed and deeply engaging story starting with the drama of a plucky little boy who has been running wild in the streets of his traditional maze-like neighborhood -- until his stern father suddenly reappears. The boy doesn't realize that his father, once a great artist, has had his dreams dashed by a long exile in the Cultural Revolution. He can't understand why his father's love for him is expressed in an obsessive desire for the little boy to develop his artistic talents.
The first half of the film is this kind of compelling, wonderfully written family drama. Then, director Zhang Yang suddenly jumps forward so that we see this boy as a young man -- falling in love with a beautiful Chinese ice skater. If your heart isn't made of stone, you'll quickly soften to this part of the story, again beautifully photographed -- as we see the young skater through the eyes of this budding artist.
The film's final scenes take us even further into the saga of this scarred, yet spiritually resilient family. I won't spoil the end, but you'll find yourself -- just as I am doing here -- urging friends to see "Sunflower."
R. de Aquino | Brazil | 06/21/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this beautiful film on cable TV last night and was blown over by its deeply felt emotional core and seamless artistry. This is a psychologically dense story told through the simplest, most direct means. Breathtaking. The actors are something to behold: their performances are fresh, truly convincing. I finally realized, to my shame, how beautiful and talented Joan Chen is. Too bad the DVD is no longer available. I would love to have it in my collection."