I saw ‘Dear Tenant’ at this year’s Frameline, San Francisco’s Gay and Lesbian Film festival. Cheng Yu-chieh’s film is one of the main films of the festival, and I was happy to support it. And the film starts out well, with a big question in the plot waiting to be answered. In the middle of the whole story is a gay love story, and the film builds its premise around it. The film has great technical aspects – it looks great on screen and is acted well – even if its ‘big reveal’ is a bit underwhelming. But it’s an interesting enough eatch, and establishes Taiwan as a great spource of modern LGBT+ stories.
It’s 1987, and Martial Law has jiust been lifted in Taiwan. The setting is an all-boys Catholic school, and this is where we first see Birdy (Jing-Hua Tseng) and Jia Han (Edward Chen) as high schoolers. One os an outcast, the other is popular. And against all odds, they fall in love, but this love is never spoken, and not really acted upon. Such is the premise of ‘Your Name Engraved Herein,’ the most successful LGBT film in Taiwan’s history. I guess nowadays they call the genre BL (boy love) and it’s so accepted now that the film broke box office records even in the midst of the pandemic.
I thought I had already gone wary of gay films where one character is long-suffering, and the story consists of one-sided unrequited love affairs (really, it has become so tiring for me) but director Kuang-Hui Lui focuses on the love story that you cannot help but be swept by it. It is set at a different time of course, where this love is still a love that dare not speak its name. I cannot help but be touched by it, and I am probably around the same age at the time as these characters were. The film felt true, even if at times the melodrama is so pronounced it feels screechy. So cue in the melancholy music and I am there. And I bet you will be too. So go fire this up on Netflix and have a good cry.
The plot of ‘Baby Steps’ can be predictable – gay couple struggling to have a baby – but I still found a lot to like in Barney Cheng’s film. The technical aspects of the film are top notch, and I was taken by the acting, especially Gua Aleh who plays the tiger mom meddling in her gay on’s life. She balances comedic and sensitive pretty well, and is given a lot to do here. I myself am not raring to be a parent – I took care of my parents in their latter lives and that’s enough for me but this film is cute enough to catch my attention.
On May 2017, same-sex marriage was legalized in Taiwan, and I honestly did not realize that the country was that progressive. But I was pleasantly surprised by that, and when I saw that Netflix had acquired the LGBT film ‘Dear Ex,’ I wanted to see it right away. I had read some glowing reviews of the film, saying it was touching and heartbreaking. After seeing it, I wish I could say the same. I really wanted to love the movie, but I barely like it. Directed by Hsu Chin-Yeh, it is just so overwrought and loud, and the performances are same – screechy, and they hit you like a blunt instrument – making all the characters unlikable I didn’t want to spend any time with any of them. Worst is Ying-Xuan Hsieh, who plays the wife/mother who gets short shifted her husband’s Life Insurance payment. She starts the movie screaming, and never lets up – I have never seen such a shrill performance that is so noisy and it’s all hollow noise. By the time the character does something nice at the end, I have long checked out on it. All in all, this was supposed to be a feel-good movie, but I just got so tired of it about half-way through that I felt the film unredeemable at that point. Still, I am glad that Netflix is supporting these kinds of films so I won’t really put it down. I am glad this film exists on this platform and hope more will come. And maybe my reaction is isolated – I see a lot of people connecting with this film, and that’s good.