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Hong Kong — Boy meets girl at high school. They grow up, drift apart and meet again. Such are the elementary and timeless ingredients with which Taiwan novelist-turned-director Giddens whips up the larky retro coming-of-age confection You Are the Apple of My Eye. Based on Giddens’ semi-autobiographical novel The Girl We Chased Together in Those Years (same as the Chinese title), which is already a bestseller among Chinese online readers, its transfer to screen has no trace of literary ponderousness and brims with unpretentious boyish humor. The film’s sparkle lies in the way it conveys the experience of youth and first love with untethered energy and in a wholly personal, idiosyncratic voice.
The film has been on a marathon run at the box office for over 40 days, sprinting to 2th place on Taiwan’s chart of all-time box office hits. Festivals specializing in popular Asian fare and other Chinese-speaking territories will take a bite too.
Apple recalls the Thai film My Girl (2003) in the way it tenderly stokes collective memory of the ‘90s, bookending its recollection of a boy and a girl growing up in the countryside with the girl’s present day wedding. Apple kicks off in 2005 and rolls backwards to 1995. The protagonist Ko Ching-Teng (Giddens’ real name, played by Ko Chen-Tung) and his gang: Boner, Cock, Groin and A-Ho are the bad boys of Ching-Cheng High, a backwater school in Changhua, central-west Taiwan.
All except Ko have the hots for pretty but prissy teacher’s pet Chia-yi (Michelle Chen). The meet cute moment between Ko and Chia-yi could have been inspired by Tom’s chivalric gesture to Becky in Tom Sawyer. The rest of the film follows them through their college days. Their furtive liaison, and the boys’ belly-flops at proving their manhood are less effervescent, but the finale gives a lippy variation on the tradition of kissing the bride that the payoff will knock your socks off.
An alternative to Asian teen movies that tend to be syrupy, demure romances targeting girls, Apple injects a fresh, tart edge to the genre with a constantly self-mocking boys’ angle. The comedy is crowd-pleasingly raucous, showing how the lads’ camaraderie is forged as much by synchronized group masturbation as desiring the same girl. If it is more graphic and uninhibited about phallus-fixation than most Chinese films in this genre, at least it eschews the smutty objectification and belittling of women that rules the Superbad school of American teen comedy. It even attempts something philosophical by reflecting on how desire is more pleasurable than its consummation.
The youthful cast has a limited register but offer enough self-conscious blasé posing. Chen comes off as most fresh and natural while Wan Wan displays more personality as her plain but spiky girlfriend. While the chatty dialogue and excessive voiceovers betray Apple‘s lexical roots, the visual imagery reveals a distinctive, almost cryptic character. Objects assume iconic significance through lush, sensuous close-ups, and there is noticeably fetishistic attention to ears. Technical credits are fine with a slightly over-bright texture.
Hong Kong International Film Festival Summer International Film Festival
Sales: Star Ritz Productions Co. Ltd.
Production companies: Star Ritz Production Co. Ltd., Sony Music Entertainment Taiwan Ltd. present a Star Ritz production.
Cast: Ko Chen-Tung, Michelle Chen, Steven Hao, Ao-Chuen, Tsai Cheng-Hsien, Yen Sheng-yu, Wan Wan.
Managing director: Liao Ming-yi, Chiang Chin-Lin.
Executive producer: Angie Chen.
Director of photography: Chou Yi-Hsien.
Production designer: Shen Chen-Chih.
Costume designer: Hsu Li-Wen.
Music: Jamie Hsueh.
Editor: Liao Ming-Yi.
No rating, 109 minutes
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