Taiwanese films are becoming sexy again, and this probably is due in part of its crop of up and coming directors who are now holding their own against the arthouse veterans, with their box office success being indication of their connecting with the audience at large, both local and overseas. Writer-director Yang Ya-Che's second feature film gf*bf shows the kind of appeal that's attractive to the general audience with its themes of romance starring a good looking cast, but in essence has a powerful story as gravitas to back it up.
Told over three decades from the martial law of the 80s, to the free spirited 90s and of today, the story revolves around three students, rebellious in their own right during their school days, but forming firm relations and friendship during their formative years. The brilliance in the scripting is in how Yang managed to craft really complex relationships between these three primary characters alone that worked on multiple levels, and showed a very fine and keen observation of the human condition, in the way we allow ourselves to be influenced by society at large, whether to conform or rebel against it, and how such decisions affect and change our behaviours, attitudes, and perhaps personality as well.
It's about how people change over time due to events and ever growing experience, whether jaded ones or otherwise, and how these changes affect the people around us, especially those whom we care about most. For Mabel (Gwei Lun-Mei), Liam (Chang Hsiao-Chuan) and Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan), life in school meant plenty of opportunities to work against the uniformed establishment, to try and break free from restrictive, and sometimes inexplicable rules. The impetuousness of youth continues into the 90s where the student movement got larger and more proactively vocal, before life in the present requires a lot more responsibility and level-headedness, with a surprise in the twist of narrative thrown in for good measure.
The trio's love triangle is what made this film come alive, and that's all that should be mentioned about it. While the title may be that little giveaway, suffice to say the romance in the film, amongst the characters, prove to be the best thing about the movie. All three actors gave convincing performances, that you'll feel every heart break, every heart wrench, and share in their little moments of happiness and warmth when things go their way, albeit not most of the time. Yang Ya-Che shows off some incredible sensitivity in making all of them multi-faceted, and multi-dimensional, and each of the actors did brilliantly to flesh their characters, making all of them pretty much endearing as we chart their ups and downs in life, especially their luck in love, or lack thereof.
Gwei Lun-Mei anchors the film, being the female amongst the two male leads, probably put in the best performance to date in a role that has plenty of spunk, yet filled with girly vulnerability when she gets her heart open and prone to heartbreak. There's a little sub plot involving her getai performing mom, and that provided a little bit of a distraction from the main narrative. While Rhydian Vaughan will likely set hearts aflutter with his good looks, playing the brash and sweet talking Aaron, Chang Hsiao-Chuan puts in a performance that's completely opposite as if to starkly contrast in broad terms, two different categories of men, and excelled in playing the strong, silent type who had too much bottled within him. For a reason of course.
gf*bf hardly put in a wrong foot in its story telling, and makes the audience work for their reward. There are films which make it easy to understand from the onset no thanks to having everything told in verbatim fashion, but this one allows some piecing together of facts and information, with a little bit of cultural and historical significance put on the side, that makes it unique, moving, and a masterful piece of filmmaking.