Original Title: 女朋友 男朋友
Languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese
Genres: Historical, Romantic Drama
Director: Yang Ya-che
Boyfriend Girlfriend is set in Taiwan in the 1980s, a turbulent time of martial law, social unrest, and the flames of revolution. The film focuses on three high school students who are the best of friends: Mabel (Gwei Lun-mei), Liam (Joseph Chang), and Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan).
They are always getting into trouble – scribbling graffiti on the school walls and publishing naughty material in the school newspaper. They are unlucky to live in an era where dancing in the park can be seen as a sign of rebellion.
Mabel is in love with Liam. Liam does indeed like her, but not in the way she hopes for. Aaron pursues Mabel and she finally gives into his charms, starting an dream-like, but uneasy, relationship.
The story dances around different stages in the three characters lives, starting from their youthful high school days and continuing to their chaotic university lives in Taipei, when they take part in the revolution against the suffocating government.
Boyfriend Girlfriend is aimed to be a “post-youth” film, as director Yang pointed out. What this means is that while the film discusses a lot of the angst, heartbreaking, and troubled choices people make in their youth, it points out that some people can’t simply grow up when they become adults.
Even as adults, we go through many of the same difficult and heart-wrenching experiences that we thought we could put behind in the past.
The characters are amazing and perfectly cast, with >Gwei Lun-mei stealing the show. It seems that she is taking a step forward from her usual roles of the wholesome, down-to-Earth girl in exchange for the emotionally troubled Mabel. She shows that she has diversity and range as an actress.
The martial law-ruled Taiwan in the 1980s serves as the backdrop of the film, when anything related to democracy was banned. In fact, director Yang had intended a political narrative to be woven into the story. His message, how “freedom is not a mistake”, is meant to be as central to the storytelling as the characters’ love triangle.
However, to casual film-goer who has no knowledge about contemporary history of Taiwan the political narrative may be lost, or distracting, to the attention given to the love triangle on-screen. Does this mean that the history lesson was unnecessary?
Not at all. At least, one can get educated on the happenings of the mid-1980s of Taiwan. Plus, the feeling of nostalgia was still ever-present. The nostalgia made it easy to connect with the characters, making it feel as if we grew up alongside them, riding on the same emotional roller coaster as they were.
Political narrative aside, what hits home the most is the theme of misery, and the cause of it. Each of the characters pursue someone that they fully can’t win the affections of. To fill in the void, they make choices that cause pain for themselves and/or others.
Mabel loves Liam, but to fill in the void she accepts Aaron, convincing herself naively that she can find happiness in him. Aaron pursues Mabel, knowing she loves Liam, but, because of his carefree and self-centered nature, makes a decision that destroys their relationship.
Liam has feelings for Aaron, and it seems like he knows it. However, Liam knows that he has no chance and instead involves himself in other loveless relationships.
In a way, that kind of story is something that we all go through not only in our young, wide-eyed youthful days, but as adults. It needs to be said that some adults need to learn how to grow up, too.
…if you want to be able to use that box of tissues near you. This film is definitely a tearjerker.