Saturday, August 11, 2012

Girlfriend Boyfriend (GF*BF) & how it compares to You Are the Apple of My Eye

So, if you want to see this, your window is extremely limited, as in, if you're reading this after 11am on Sunday, it's pretty much closed unless you don't work regular business hours. You're not missing a whole lot, although breaking its issues down makes it sound worse than my actual reaction at the time. It feels better than it analyzes.

In order to get something out while it's still (barely) in theaters, I'm passing on writing a full review of You Are the Apple of My Eye to go with it until it comes up at its regular spot in the Fantasia movie review queue (it's at around 18th, so... end of the month?). It's an interesting comparison, if maybe a superficial one: Both come from Taiwan, both follow a group of high school friends into college and beyond, both have framing segments set in the present day and reflect important recent events.

Apple is a better movie in almost every way, though; even though it's frothier and frequently crass. It really gets in and focuses on its main characters, through the good and bad, and how their choices affect their lives. Its jumps are smaller, for the most part, but it never loses track of who its characters are at their cores through them, whereas I'm not sure exactly what sort of person Aaron is when all is said and done in GF*BF. And it twists when it gets back around to its framing sequence, able to do so because its characters have become the best versions of themselves. Many of its characters are broad and ridiculous, but despite that, Giddens Ko never loses track of who they are like Yang Ya-che arguably does.

And funny thing, but I half think that there's possibly a better premise in the framing device than what it surrounds. It involves SPOILERS! Liam raising the twin daughters of his two best friends, despite the fact that apparently, in Taiwan, he can't legally adopt them because he's gay. Technically, he can only be their "older brother", even though Xiao Xu, the more outspoken one, flatly declares him to be their father (also cool - the twins have basically inherited the rebellious nature of all three of their parents at that age, agitating for change and democracy at their school). Does Aaron have any contact with them, or does he avoid scandal? !SRELIOPS That movie might be melodramatic, but it would have some drama.

Ah, well. GF*BF isn't a great movie, and it had the walk-outs to back that up (there were about a half-dozen of us in the theater, and there were just a couple of us left by the end). I'm going to have to ask around at Films At The Gate if walk-outs are more common in China than they are here. (BTW: Films at the Gate schedule announced! With movies featuring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and Sammo Hung!) I do scratch my head over how this is the one that got the release in the Boston area, when Starry Starry Night is also distributed by China Lion and is Really Good, and Apple is in many ways a better version of this same story. But, as I'm occasionally reminded, foreign-film distribution is weird and random.

Girlfriend Boyfriend (GF*BF)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2012 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first run, Sony digital 4K)

By odd happenstance, Girlfriend Boyfriend (GF*BF, by the title appearing on-screen) is the second Taiwanese film I've seen in as many weeks to start its characters in high school and follow them to the present, and it turns out to be an interesting example of how weightier material doesn't always make for a better movie. GF*BF is far more dramatic than the comedic You Are the Apple of My Eye, but its trio of good performances almost feel trapped by Yang Ya-che's noble intentions.

In 1985, it's easy to mistake classmates Mabel Lin (Gwei Lun-mei) and Liam Chen (Chang Hsiao-chuan) for girlfriend and boyfriend; they are inseparable and cause trouble as a team, including selling forbidden zines at the local market. It's probably also what Mabel wants, but she winds up dating their friend Aaron Yuan (Rhydian Vaughan). He's more attracted to Mabel than vice versa, but since Liam's crush is on Aaron rather than Mabel, what can you do? Five years later, Aaron and Liam are college roommates, but when the three celebrate Aaron's birthday at a protest... Well, things will be different when we check back in on them in 1997.

The movie actually starts in the present day before jumping back 27 years, and if you know anything about the movie going in (which I must confess includes that summary), the ultimate direction of the movie is fairly obvious; even going in cold, I suspect the ultimate destination is clear early. That's not necessarily crippling, but the way that the story moves toward this inevitable ending sucks a great deal of drama out of it; what goes on in 1997 feels more like setting 2012 up than following logically from previous segments. We see some turning points in the characters' lives, but not others that seem like they may be more important, while relatively unimportant characters recur and ones that seem fairly important lurk around the edges. Heck, Yang doesn't even consistently build a timeline that seems like continuous lives; while seemingly throw-away scenes of Mabel appearing to climb the ladder at work does a nice job of tying her story together, there's little such continuity for the other characters, and their unexplained new circumstances in one segment after seeming to be headed in the other direction makes the audience feel out of the loop.

Full review at EFC.

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