Movie Review: YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE
I have seen the Taiwanese version of American Pie and it is called You Are The Apple of My Eye. Well, if not the American Pie than at least the American Reunion.
Giddens Ko's cheery look at adolescent romance, a box office sensation overseas, is making its North American debut at the New York Asian Film Festival this July. I'd be hard pressed to call it must-see viewing, but it is interesting to see just where the similarities and differences lie between American and Taiwanese youth culture.
Set in the 1990s, a time before cellphones but after the creation of ear buds, we meet a group of close friends who attend a private school. (Their uniforms have individualized numbers stitched on them, which I find incredibly creepy, but what do I know?) Four friends, Boner, Groin, Tsao and “A-ho” (which I'm pretty sure means fat guy) all have a debilitating crush on the sunny star pupil Shen Chia-yi. The only member of the group who claims not to is our narrator, Ko Ching-Teng who, as I'm sure you can imagine, is the one who forms the closest bond with her before the strong tides of growing up move everyone apart.
Ko and Shen's “meet cute” is one of cinema's more unusual set-ups. It happens when Ko is forced to move his seat to the one in front of Chia-yi when he's caught in a jerking off race in the back of the classroom. (This sequence is shot in an unrealistic style, one of a number that brought the video-game informed Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to mind.)
The “good girl” is, of course, disinterested in Ko, but after he helps her out of a jam (she forgot her textbook! Whatever will she do!) she takes it upon herself to help him with his study habits. What follows is a very chaste, homework-based romance that offers up some confirmations on Asian culture's stereotypical emphasis on education. There are worse things out there, I imagine.
In time the five boys, plus Shen and her “weird friend” who likes to draw cartoons, become inseparable. While the boys all still lust for Shen, it is accepted that she and Ko have a special bond. When they all go away to college (and each get into such good programs!) the group stays in touch. A long distance argument breaks up Ko and Shen, and A-ho quickly swoops in to get her hand in dating. (Mostly because he was the first to arrive at her doorstep.)
Ko and Shen reconnect after the 921 Earthquake of 1999. By then, however, Shen is officially the girl that got away. The gang gets back together for Shen's wedding to some dude who seems nice, but probably doesn't know what his new bride represents to the group.
You Are The Apple Of My Eye doubles-down on the nostalgia of young love and, by and large, it works. American audiences may be a little perplexed, however, toward the film's portrayal of sexuality. The movie is chock full of masturbation – there are some very animated circle jerks once Ko gets to college – and even some laissez-faire representations of homosexuality in dormitory showers. The lead characters, however, remain virginal and pure. I mean, what high school senior (one who draws manga no less!) doesn't know what “jerking off” is? It's all a little odd. . .
I can't deny that I found myself rolling my eyes by the end – there are schmaltz-heavy flashback montages set to sappy music that may make you vomit in your mouth – but the characters are all “good kids” and likable. There are some funny touches, too, like how Ko and his father tend to walk around the apartment stark naked, much to the chagrin of happy homemaker Mom.
I do not think that You Are The Apple Of My Eye will be any sort of crossover hit, nor, to be honest, am I eagerly anticipating more from this director. (This is the first film of a very successful autobiographical author.) As a curiosity, however, the film is certainly an interesting look at what's popular right now in Taiwan.