Three Summers (1993)

Directed by: Lawrence Lau
Written by: Lawrence Lau, Sylvia Chang, Cheung Tat-Ming & Bill Yip
Producer: Jeng Shui Chi
Starring: Cherie Chan, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Wu Chien-Lien, John Wakefield & Veronica Yip

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Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1994:
Best New Performer (Cherie Chan)

Living on the fishing island of Tai O, teenage girl Half Pint (Cherie Chan - Always On My Mind) spends time every summer with a group of Hong Kong city kids, doing the environment and the gods favours. Her brother Wai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) have returned from a stint in the city, having stirred up some form of trouble in the underworld. He watches his sister wanting to break free and the subsequent summers will prove if her character is ever ready for a leap into an unknown world outside of the island...

Having directed award winning material in Queen Of Temple Street with Sylvia Chang (1*), the two acclaimed profiles teamed up for Three Summers, a departure for Lawrence Lau as he breaks his streak of period films/epics (Arrest The Restless, Lee Rock 1 & 2). Focusing on life paths, growing into your mature self and finding your true place in life, the quiet drama ranks as more of a minor blimp in Lau's filmography but it's a work with few drops, not just constant peaks.

As the title suggests, the narrative stretches itself over three summers, the season that can contain life peaks, crucial developments and once in a lifetime experiences. Initially the tone seems overly politically correct since the group of kids in question are super environmentally aware and threats of the film merely being a public service announcement is imminent. Yet, it's not disruptive and that overly cheerful, hopeful and inspiring first summer is structurally logical for the forthcoming second where it all goes mostly downhill emotionally for the characters. Life contains bitterness, jealousy and your desires may not take you places of light proportions. Lau's frame does indeed go pessimistic but by employing a tone throughout that doesn't manipulate, it's not depressing for the sake of being depressing.

One argument that CAN be unleashed upon the film is lack of full character arcs but I would buy the explanation that film is too brief of a medium to capture an entire life's worth of character development. Lau, co-writing with Sylvia Chang, Bill Yip and future comedic actor Cheung Tat-Ming (You Shoot, I Shoot, Nightmares In Precinct 7) argues fairly successfully to provide snapshots, albeit ones taken at crucial moments. Cherie Chan's Half Pint, Tony Leung's Wai, they have had their share of experiences leading up to the point where we meet them but especially in Wai's case, the fragmented hints doesn't take much away from a gathered tally of the film's character. A tally that is good since an effect comes with Three Summers. We can relate and easily follow the growth into semi-adulthood for especially our island characters and I always like when conclusions are never conclusions. It's the end of the brief time we spent with these. We wish them luck and it's defined as fragmented cinema in a way. Lawrence Lau fairly successfully wins us over despite. Another factor is cinematographer Jingle Ma who provides expected island visuals but the point and shoot style combined with the gods of weather seemingly always on Ma's side, is one major step towards the film's likeability.

Star power exists and the likes of Tony Leung, Wu Chien-Lien and Veronica Yip add charisma to the film but newcomer Cherie Chan shines in a very natural act, immersing herself and us into the plight of the character that could be likened to a small bird wanting to learn to fly. It doesn't take much. "Just" a director focusing on small essentials and while Lawrence Lau has provided us with fuller works before and since, Three Summers captures our hearts easily, just in a slightly lesser way this time. Here's another argument perhaps; the film doesn't dare to be anything but minor and kind of stays there. It's a nice place to be in though.

The DVD:

Mei Ah's remastered edition is welcome because the film certainly is obscure but as of writing, this line of remasters seem like a thing of the past as it's not a profitable business to dish out unknowns. To re-pack already existing, popular catalogue titles is obviously a much better decision. At any rate, the 1:78:1 framed anamorphic presentation has slight wear at a fair number of points but clarity, sharpness and colours comes off fairly nicely.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds clear in all aspects. A Mandarin 2.0 option is also available.

Errors in grammar and structure are at times inherited in the optional English subtitles but overall is not a disruptive element in a translation that otherwise flows well. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. The Mei Ah Databank with the plot synopsis and cast & crew listing is the sole so called extra.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) Although it was newcomer Rain Lau and screenwriter Chan Man-Keung who were handed Hong Kong Film Awards for their work. In the case of Lau, she was recognized both as Best Supporting Actress and Best New Artist.