Sun, Moon, and Star I
Hong Kong 1961
Directed by Evan Yang.

It's every man's nightmare. You date a couple girls, they find out about each other, get mad at you, and become best friends. Jianbai (Chang Yang), not afraid to play favorites, compares them to the sun, moon, and stars. The stars represent his childhood sweetheart A-lan (Lucilla You), a poor peasant girl raised by her abusive aunt and uncle. His cousin Qiuming (Grace Chang) is the moon, "obscuring the stars with her presence," and the one his family hopes he'll marry. But then there is the sun, which blot the lot of them out: Yanan (Julie Yeh), a fanatical patriot he meets in college.

Things would have been fine for Jianbai had he stayed at home, with his girlfriend and washerwoman A-Lan, but her uncle promises her to a soldier who lives nearby. But scandal ensues when they discover she has been meeting Jianbai in secret, after dark, for years; his father whips the hell out of him, grandma intervenes, and he is rushed off to college, where he runs into his cousin. Not a fan of arranged marriages, he nevertheless quickly falls for her, especially when she is nursing him back to health after he ate a particularly nasty side of roast beef (yes, men in Cathay films are usually not so tough and often succumb to dangers such as overcooked meat). He agrees to marry her, but not a second after he gets home again he is secretly meeting his old flame, and eventually he has to flee a second time, this time from both of them. He goes up to college in the North, where he falls in with some patriots in the "Student Improvement Association," and once again falls in love, this time with the tough, sturdy, leader of the group, Yanan. But then, war with the Japanese breaks out, and his romantic life must remain undecided, at least until part II.

SUN, MOON, AND STAR was adapted by screenwriter Chin Yu from a sprawling, serialized mess of a novel by the same name by writer Xu Su. After the movie was completed and released, Xu Su updated his novel with some improvements suggested by the adaptation. Sort of like, ever since Jimmy Hendrix covered ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER, Dylan abandoned the way he originally wrote the song and followed Hendrix's version. It's a rare tribute.

The movie does cut very clear lines, moving from episode to episode framing each in its complimentary skyscape -- when Jianbai is with A-lan, the stars shine above (and they discuss the constellations). When he is with Yanan, they hike briskly up a mountain and watch the sun rise. Director Evan Yang seems to have made the transition to Technicolor effortlessly, ever scene is awash in rich colors. His occasional use of too-deep shadows is a reminder of his background in Black & White, but it is seldom distracting and often adds power and drama to a scene. Several times, Grace Chang is partially obscured by shadows, as she observes her beloved Jianbai and his love for another woman. One look at her face and I would have hid every cleaver in the house, just to be on the safe side.

And speaking of Grace Chang, her performance is truly marvelous in Part I, the best in a group of very strong performances (though Lucilla You overdoes her "oh-pity-me" schtick, this is probably more the fault of the script than the actor).

The epic continues in Sun, Moon, and Star II. The back cover description likens the story to GONE WITH THE WIND, but at least they had the decency to make it into two separate movies so you weren't obligated to sit through the whole thing in one viewing. Coming next: Atlanta burns!!!

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on February 21, 2005.

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