You Are the Apple of My Eye had successfully reached out and grabbed me by the throat with its many identifiable, similar moments mirroring personal experiences, at a time where school and education played a big part, and what more with co-ed schools, having friends and facing competition in going after the girl of our dreams then, who almost always turns out to be the popular school flower. Sad but true facts of life, and with game theory, anyone would have been better off with the friends of the object of our affection such as Hu Chia-Wei (Wan Wan) who turned out really well despite her less than stellar looks and knowledge (though things always change in the future for the better, like fine wine), rather than the primary, unattainable target herself, whose bookish behaviour came off very prim and proper with an unrelenting focus on school results.
But Fate always possess a hand at springing up surprises, and in Gidden's chief protagonist Ko Ching-Teng (Ko Chen-Tung) who of course is his avatar in the film, this comes in the form of the popular schoolgirl Shen Jia-Yi (Michelle Chan from Hear Me) who inexplicably takes a strong liking for someone she initially detests for being too childish, but an episode of standing up for her became a catalyst for a budding relationship to grow, stemming from the desire to help Ching-Teng improve his grades, as well as the implicit result of having a studying companion to spur her on, friendly competition and a protector of sorts in her late nights spent in school. Then there is the keen competition from Ching-Teng's own clique of likable, though one-dimensional buddies, from the nerd Boner (Yen Sheng-Yu), the obligatory fatty A-Ho (Steven Hao), the bragger (Owodog) and the weirdo Groin (Tsai Chang- Hsien) with his repertoire of strange tricks up his sleeves, who each have their own way at courtship, to varying degrees of failure, trying as hard as they can to try and win her affections.
Broadly split into three areas in a young adult's life with the time spent in school between two friends who share an unwritten and unsaid declaration of their mutual affection, to post high school graduation into higher learning and the long distance put between them as the test of their relationship, and the period of the present, Giddens firmly helmed all aspects of the film and orchestrated a flowing and slick ensemble, successfully merging many different genres together, from wacky comedy to romance, and having the natural flair to pull off some of the most absurd (though not far fetched in real life) of situations especially those involving body parts and those containing plenty of innuendos to bring out the laughs (seriously, the soap bar is not an urban myth it seems), and at times presenting them for the keen eyed viewer whose eyes wander to the background of a scene, and being rewarded with sight gags.
Since the narrative unravels itself during the 90s, those like me who grew up during the era will find a lot of strong nostalgia from the production design right down to a walk down memory lane given a backdrop of historical events, or in a period of time where the mobile phone hardly has the proliferation and pervasiveness of today. Those long, snaking queues of people waiting for a payphone, bring back fond memories in really sweating it out to want to speak to a loved one until being goaded to let go or when the coins run out, and of course with advancement in phone technology being able to butt in just to hear a loved one at the end of the line post-disaster, is nothing more than comforting, though only when there is adequate signal strength.
Being a Taiwanese film, language plays a key role here especially when Hokkien gets into play, with the very colourful, familiar swear words used that will undoubtedly provide a certain kick to movie audiences here. The rich use of the language also helps to flavour the film especially with the very authentic, natural lines of dialogue, making the characters believable. Also, the rating for the film at NC16 is something of an indication of a loosening up of classification perhaps, where once sustained use of vulgarities, male on male lip locks regardless of context, and the many scenes of sex and masturbation (stylized for comedy) will likely get nothing less than an M18, but I suppose given the context of the film's setting dealing with hot blooded male characters, as well as the film being so well received in its home country, that it will be silly to try and artificially restrict its pool of audience from enjoying what is essentially a simple, yet effect story being translated for the big screen.
In some ways Giddeon's film is like Ah Niu's directorial debut effort Ice Kacang Puppy Love which is also a story about first love and peppered with quirky characters, but if the story comes from a sincere heart recounting one's own experience despite a very universal theme, I truly believe everyone's first love story will be something worth recounting given its bittersweet moments, and the lessons to be learn from it. You Are the Apple of My Eye will warm your heart and wring it with regret at the same time especially if you're able to identify with the story. It made me ponder over my own similar What If scenario, in the way parallel universes worked itself into the story, and its reconciliatory tone was something cutting very close to home, of how people change, and when we look back we're probably seeing very different persons from that point in time, when compared with who we are today.
Highly recommended and it goes into my shortlist as one of the best this year has to offer.