A good attempt at exploring the intertwined relationships of three lovers, but often lost, forgetting the context of Taiwan’s political transition…
Screened as part of the opening ceremony of the Pan-Asian Film Festival at the Cineworld Haymarket in London, the movie Gf*Bf directed by Yang Ya-Che (Orz Boyz), has come to the end of its festival run, about 7 months after its August 3rd release and amazing box office performance in Taiwan. According to the director’s word, there would be no better ending than being screened in the UK, the country of his most respected Western influence, Oscar Wilde – and London, the place where he exercised most influence.
As such we can tell, though the director’s explanations, but also what we see on screen, that there could be some influences from the Irish writer (and especially from The Picture of Dorian Gray). The most telling is the party and moment of debauchery that takes place before Aaron leaves to join the army. For some reason, they paint their faces with various make-up colors, making the scene a kind of work-of-art. Full of suggestions, the scene reminds of Wilde’s idea that aestheticism is to disillusion rather than dignify beauty – and that what lies behind this aesthetic scene is an ugly scenario of events.
Another of Wilde’s themes is that we can sense in the film is the lack of responsibility. Even when Aaron asks Mabel as a girlfriend, we don’t really believe he could be seriously in love with her – he just seems like a playboy. Except that fact, most of the moves the characters make seem out of their control: Liam does not really assume his gayness but rather is submitted to it, Mabel does not really choose Aaron as a boyfriend but lets it happen, Aaron is enrolled in the army and does not seem to show any resistance – quite surprising when we know that him and Liam were constantly challenging the authority of the state police. Also, even when we see the students’ rebellion against the authoritarian state to claim for more freedom, the speeches and their commitment does not seem so proactive. Their actions seem dictated by the context and not of their own will.
The directing is rather dynamic (editor’s note: the cinematography is by Jake Pollack, whose previous work includes Starry Starry Night and Wu Xia) playing with a few elements of storytelling that make the story interesting – but includes some weaknesses…
First, he draws a rather “incomplete” love triangle: Aaron loves Mabel, Mabel loves Liam, Liam loves Aaron. The other way is not true, but the story somehow destroys this triangle: as Mabel comes to accept Aaron’s love and to be his girlfriend, she turns her back to Liam. Weirdly, she is the one who calls him ten years later showing how much she still cares for him. Liam has not really moved on either – he tried to find compensation in another guy to get over his love for Aaron, but did not really succeed. The fact Aaron cheats on Mabel however rises doubts on his real feelings and whether Mabel made the right choice: at some point, he talks to a little boy on the phone, which may suggest that he actually made the other girl pregnant. That might be where the script is rather weak, as we may wonder why Mabel is still with him if he has a family with another woman, and why he remains with Mabel too. As he flies away from Taiwan in the midst of a quite awkwardly brought in political scandal, we wonder what is of his separation from pregnant Mabel.
The subtle and numerous suggestions of unpleasant turns that we have to cope with in life also form part of the interesting take of the director on this film. Instead of showing those decisions frontally, he uses several suggestions such as various phone conversations that add up some drama, as well as skipping events, such as the two girls who are taken care of by grown up Liam (suggesting she decided to give birth and die, and Liam found a reason to his life by raising them).
Something that may be missing, and which is due to the desire of the director to skip over years to focus on the evolution of the relationships between the main characters, would be the separation which has a strong impact on the characters’ feelings for each other. Why would Liam be stuck with such frustration for ten years, as if the separation from Mabel and Aaron happened just yesterday? Why would Liam still feel for Aaron even though the latter has not shown any desire to remain in touch with the former? As Yang tries to give a dark picture of life as it is, he might also try to keep afloat a relationship which in reality shouldn’t have resisted the time passing.
Finally there is a radical contrast between Aaron’s (Rhydian Vaughan) exaggerated facial expressions, Mabel’s (Gwei Lun-Mei, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Starry Starry Night) impassive behavior and Joseph Chang’s contrived Liam. Actually, in some way, the most interesting character of the story which makes it pretty much entertaining is the near hysterical Sean, a gay friend of theirs who constantly brings in a laid back analysis on life.
In short, Yang Ya-Che’s second film, Gf*Bf confirms the director’s skillful approach to human relationships and his interest in challenging innocent and idealistic perception of life. As he tries to develop the complexity of the romance between the three main characters, he somehow forgets to stress the role of the context of political transition, which soon loses its importance. Also, as he tries to add up some drama to the characters’ lives, the limited time to explore their personalities and inner thoughts – which would have been possible in a TV drama – causes unexplained and sometimes illogical intricacies. Luckily, the blend of humour, bitterness and wealth of events make it overall an entertaining drama – despite its punctual weaknesses.