Movies · Reviews

NYAFF 2015, Day 5: Meeting Dr. Sun Features a High School Heist of Nationwide Importance

By  · Published on June 30th, 2015

Edko Films

The New York Asian Film Festival returns for a 14th year showcasing an exciting and eclectic mix of movies from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, China and Malaysia. This year brings a total of 54 feature films including two world premieres and three international premieres, and while I’m once again unfortunately unable to experience the fest on the ground in NYC I’m excited to cover as much as I can remotely.

Day five of the festival features two films, Meeting Dr. Sun and Little Big Master.

NYAFF 2015 runs June 26th through July 11th. Follow our coverage here.

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Lefty (Zhon Huai-yun) just wants to be left alone to nap during class, use the bathroom and hang out with his friends, but every time he turns around he’s being reminded – sometimes rather forcibly – that he needs to pay his school dues. It’s unclear if these are actual fees or bully protection tax, but either way Lefty can’t afford it. He and his three best friends decide the only course of action is to steal a forgotten bronze statue in the school storage room, sell it for scrap metal and never worry about money again. An elaborate plan is set into motion, but when they discover a rival group of students led by the short but spunky Sky (Matthew Wei) is planning the same theft things grow even more complicated.

Lefty and Sky enter into a competition of sorts to see who’s the poorest, and therefore who deserves the statue’s riches more, and when the latter boy seems to have an edge when it comes to poverty and a terrible home life – after revealing that his mother ran away he adds that the the table and chair followed suit, “Anything with legs ran off,” he says without cracking a smile – Lefty decides to invite him to join he and his friends. He’s double-crossed in short order leading to the two groups working the heist on the same night with unexpected results.

There are two elements at play in Taiwan’s Meeting Dr. Sun. The first is a fun, goofy comedy about classmates planning a heist, and the second is a social/political commentary on Taiwan’s place in the shadow of China and its citizens place in a society facing economic hardships. The two don’t always mesh – in part because the Taiwanese political situation and history are assumed to be understood by viewers – but the entertainment value remains thanks to an engaging style, some universal humor and some deliriously entertaining heist shenanigans.

The heist itself is the film’s highlight as the two groups of four boys, all of them dressed similarly and wearing the same cartoon mask, slowly find themselves working together – yet completely unaware they’re doing so. A combination of obliviousness and forgetfulness finds the boys joining together to accomplish their goal of loading the heavy statue and secreting it from school grounds, and it’s only when they pause to reflect that they realize what’s transpired. There’s an obvious lesson there meant both for the boys and the country itself, and it carries through to a final, powerful image.

It’s difficult not to feel as though we’re missing details and inferred weight – elements inherent to Taiwan’s citizens but unknown to those outside the country – and while lots of films carry that national subtext in their narratives here it seems to be closer to actual necessary text. The gap in appreciation for the film is visible due to that lack of awareness, but it doesn’t tank the film itself.

The humor is universal including a very fun nod to zombie films, and the characters are appealing in their devious innocence. Some of the performances are rough around the edges – Zhon in particular occasionally seems in over his head and reverts to a big, false smile to get him through – but they’re natural enough to hold our attention and interest through to the end.

Meeting Dr. Sun is a playful high school comedy, and while there’s more going on here that may just have to be enough.

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NYAFF 2015 runs June 26th through July 11th. Follow our coverage here.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.