The Longest Summer, 1998

A public broadcast on March 31, 1997 officially announces the disbanding of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps – the cadre of Chinese soldiers serving in the British garrison on the island – as images of regimental exercises leading to the final lowering of the sovereign flag cuts to a shot of a young boy aboard a subway train whose attention is detracted to the curious sight of a dozing young man on crutches with a scarred hole extending through the side of his face. The surreal episode then converges to a tunnel shot that emerges on a train platform where a gaunt, impassive station assistant unsuccessfully attempts crowd control and is quickly overpowered into the passenger car by rushing commuters. The overpowered station assistant is revealed to one of the dismissed soldiers eking out a living through a series of odd jobs in the uncertain economy of the preceding months before the handover of the colony to mainland China. His former military colleague Ga Yin (Tony Ho), unable to find employment commensurate to his accustomed standard of living in the corps, is goaded by his pragmatic and unsentimental parents to use his younger brother, Ga Suen’s (Sam Lee) organized crime connections in order to secure work. Reluctantly accepting a job as a driver for a mob boss named Big Brother Wing (Chan Sang) under the rationalization that the position does not entail killing, Ga Yin inadvertently crosses path with Wing’s willfully independent, errant daughter Jane (Jo Kuk): first, as Ga Suen plays a prank on the beautiful and coy young woman at a gas station, and subsequently, as Wing orders an impromptu chase after spotting her car in traffic. Faced with a disreputable and tenuous future as a mobster’s hired thug, Ga Suen joins his former comrades in hatching a plan to rob a British-owned bank under the chaotic cover of the sporadic, ongoing celebrations in the days leading to the official handover.

The second installment of Fruit Chan’s loosely defined handover trilogy (that also includes Made in Hong Kong and Little Cheung), The Longest Summer is a boldly realized, idiosyncratically comical, and indelibly captivating exposition on rootlessness, disconnection, anarchy, and moral dissolution. Chan juxtaposes images of renewal and death in order to reflect the endemic ambivalence and lawless opportunism of life for Chinese colonials during the transitional period of the handover: the shot of the ex-soldiers literally adrift on raft as the unexpected, ghost-like image of a recently fired, former colleague appears on the water; the recurring use of the nostalgic melody, Auld Lang Syne; the public viewing of a fireworks display to commemorate the opening of the Tsing Ma Suspension Bridge that is used as a diversion for a mob contract killing (a scenario that is similarly repeated in the pursuit of Ga Suen on the evening of the official oath-taking ceremony). The film’s alternately humorous, surreal, and bittersweet final scene shows Ga Yin and Jane’s alienated encounter on a Hong Kong street after the handover – a haunting and poignant encapsulation of the traumatic and involuntary erasure of personal memories and past history of a people striving to build a new life in their politically abandoned and dislocated homeland.

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