Chen Boqing, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Director Huang Chaoliang’s Summer Times premiered in 2009. Set on the island of Jinmen (Kinmen), the film tells the story of A-Kuan (Zhang Ruijia), a local high-school student who falls in love with Xiao Qing (Lin Yixin), a Taipei girl. The romance is put to the test not only by the distance separating Taiwan and Jinmen, but also by the lovers’ respective backgrounds and secrets. Summer Times is both a paean to young love and an exploration of the subtle psychological relationship that exists between Taiwan and outlying islands. The screenplay was later adapted as a TV special, Summer Fever 38℃ (2012).
The film introducesfeatures of theJinmen landscape. The Republic of China’s first line of defense in the Taiwan Strait, the island is the site of a great number of military fortifications and minefields. Battlefields, bunkers, and underground tunnels – once scenes of slaughter – are now the places where A-Kuan and Xiao Qing rendezvous: Theteenage lovers pledge undying love to each other on a minefield, using a bullhorn – a tool of psychological warfare – to proclaim their affection. Relics of war affirm life and love; changes in the use of space stand as testament to the passage of time.
Jinmen landmarks also serve as metaphors in the film. For example, Xiao Qing compares A-Kuan’s state of mind to “anti-landing pilings, full of barbs” and A-Kuan characterizes Taiwanese tourists as “Jinmen’s grassland,” as treacherous as minefields, the dialogue vividly conveying the attack-and-defense strategies of a boy and a girl in love.Furthermore, Xiao Qing compares their relationship to the “husband-and-wife fish,” a metaphor for faithfulness in love. And like the blue-tailed bee-eater, a migratory bird that returns to Jinmen every spring, she promises to come back to A-Kuan. The implications of this expressive language can only be appreciated in the context of Jinmen life. The film accentuates Jinmen’s local color, distinguishingthe island from other locales.
A-Kuan and Xiao Qing’s romance is in fact a miniature portrait of the contradictions that exist between Taiwan and Jinmen. Jinmen is called an “outlying island,” implying that it is subordinate to the “motherland” Taiwan.In the film A-Kuan says again and again, “People who come to Jinmen are only travelers passing through.”What he means is, “I can’t leave this place.”Family responsibilities force him to remain in Jinmen: “I have to support my mother.” Long regarded as an outlier,Jinmen has been effectively sealed off from the world. A-Kuan is unable to leave butalso worries about what lies beyond the island. The teenagers love not only contrasts rural and urban life, but also bears witness to the conflicts between Taiwan and outlying islands.
The film ends with a strange transition:Xiao Qing dies, and by her own request is buried in Jinmen. A-Kuan is unaware of what has happened until Xiao Qing’s twin sister comes to Jinmen and breaks the news to him: “Xiao Qing has died. I’m her twin sister and I’ve come to love you for her.” From that time on A-Kuan watches over Xiao Qing’s grave, transforming themiles between Taiwan and Jinmen into the space between life and death, the farthest distance, which can neither be transcendednor abandoned. Although audiences never learn whether A-Kuan and Xiao Qing’s sister continue the romance, Summer Times writes an unrepentant love letter for the islands of Jinmen and Taiwan.