Edward Yang's long-awaited fourth feature is an independent production on an epic scale, a picture of Taiwan in 1960/61 as reflected in the story of a teenage boy who kills a schoolgirl. For many, this is a Taiwan caught between the pull of Mainland China and the lure of the US, the land of milk and honey where Elvis Presley sings (or does he?) of "a brighter summer day." It's also a Taiwan of Communist-spy scares, where the kids from Mainland families have formed street gangs to assert their own identity and to challenge each other for supremacy.
Xiao Sir (superbly played by newcomer Zhang Zhen) is a bit of a loner; unlike his best friends Cat and Airplane, he's not a member of the Little Park Gang. He doesn't sing or play music, and he spends too much time reading by torchlight in his boxed-in bunk bed. When he first meets Ming (Lisa Yang, another striking newcomer), he keeps his distance. He knows that she was the friend of Honey, the missing leader of the Little Park Gang. His growing infatuation with her coincides with the return of Honey, a struggle for control of the gang, and a deadly clash between the boys and their rivals, the 217 Gang — tough kids from military families.
Edward Yang locates this story at the heart of a vast fresco crowded with warmth, humour, violence and a wealth of intimate detail. For once, 'masterpiece' seems the appropriate word.
• Tony Rayns