With its North American premiere at the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival, we now revisit James Marsh's review from last November.
For his directorial debut, prolific youth author Giddens Ko
has adapted one of his own autobiographical novels, and in the process
delivered a lewd, crude coming-of-age story that is also a moving and
heartfelt romance. Set in 1990s Taiwan, YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE is
the story of five young high school guys and the one girl with whom they
are all desperately smitten.
There's a boy
like Ko Teng (Ke Zhendong) in every class - tall, handsome and lazy as
all hell. He sleeps through class and spends his free time hanging out
with his friends. The other boys - Tsao, A-ho, Groin and Boner - flock
around him, as do many of the girls, but truth be told he's thick as two
short planks and is in serious danger of flunking right out of high
school. One girl with absolutely no interest in Ko Teng is honor student
Chia Yi (Michelle Chen). Smart, sensible and effortlessly attractive,
Chia Yi is the most likely to succeed in their class, and if she does it
will be because she's earned it.
typical day's classroom shenanigans, Ko Teng and his buddy, Boner - so
called because he suffers from, yup, an almost permanent erection, a
condition milked for all its comedic potential, and then some - are
caught taking part in a bout of competitive speed-wanking during class.
In a desperate attempt to keep him in school but out of trouble, Ko Teng
is moved next to Chia Yi, and she is saddled with the responsibility of
monitoring his behaviour from now on.
to say, what starts out as an almost painfully embarrassing exercise
for both of them, eventually gives way to friendship, affection and the
possibility of something more. By the time the summer comes around, Ko
Teng and Chia Yi have become close enough that Chia Yi invites her
friend Chia Wei (Wan Wan) along for the ride and the two girls spend
their entire summer with the five boys, until the new term and
university takes them all in separate directions.
a first movie, YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE is really quite a remarkable
achievement, slick, assured and almost effortlessly entertaining in a
way that many seasoned veterans struggle to accomplish at all in their
careers. Once seen, it comes as little surprise that the film has become
such a runaway success in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, as Giddens has
delivered a pitch-perfect teen drama that addresses comedy in the same
enthusiastically puerile way teenagers do, while dealing with love and
romance with equal authenticity - by which I mean it's painfully awkward
and so often unfulfilling.
However, many if
not all of these elements were present in the source novel, for which
Giddens has already received ample praise. Up on the screen, what we see
is a breezy confidence and playful tone that keeps things moving along
at a gratifyingly fast pace, but without feeling haphazard or overly
episodic. The film is bright and colourful, interspersing touches of
seamlessly applied CGI with a mist-eyed nostalgia that will play well
with thirtysomethings, while retaining a pop-infused vibrancy that will
ensure today's teens remain confident this is a film addressing them and
their "unique" high school experience.
YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE does have a weakness, it is in the female
characters and their comparative lack of depth compared to their male
counterparts. Chia Yi and Chia Wei are pretty much the only female
characters in the film and we never learn a great deal about them beyond
what Ko Teng and the other boys learn. But this is, of course, the
whole point. At the best of times, men can struggle to fully understand
women, and back in those formative years, girls weren't the fairer sex
so much as an alien species to be objectified, fawned over or
occasionally picked on - quite often because deep down we really fancied
them but didn't have the skills or the guts to do anything about it.
reason the film works so well and should continue to resonate with
audiences in other territories around the world in the same way as it
has done in Taiwan and is doing here in Hong Kong is because Giddens
hits home with universal truths about what it really means to be a
teenage boy. The girls will delight in the opportunity to see the cute
guys caught between the crosshairs and dissected for all to see, while
the guys will simply relate to the unspoken embarrassment and
vulnerability that comes with being an adolescent. Wherever you go in
the world, boys have a propensity for toilet humour, a disregard for
schoolwork and never quite have the balls to ask out the girls they
like. Whether its comics, sports, video games or movies, all guys have
their hobbies and the things that they're passionate about, but every
man jack of them remembers the one girl they had a crippling crush on in
high school, as well as the incessant, unrelenting masturbating.
Giddens taps into our inner-wanker in the most sincere of ways and it
proves to be the film's greatest strength.As part of the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival You Are The Apple of My Eye
plays tonight, July 2nd (6:30pm) and Monday, July 9th (12:30pm) at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center. Click here for more info and tickets.