Hit Chinese Teen Movie More Than ‘Taiwanese Pie’

Guest Blog: “You Are the Apple of My Eye” has more than its share of high-school raunch, but offers a poignant look at coming-of-age in Taiwan

When popular author Giddens Ko decided to turn his autobiographical love story "You Are the Apple of My Eye" into a  movie, he decided to direct it himself, and the sweet coming-of-age comedy has done terrific box office all over Asia, beginning with a great run here in Ko's native Taiwan.

His novel was titled "Na xie nian, wo men yi qi zhui de nu hai," which translates in English best as "When We Were Teenagers, We All Chased After the Same Girl at School."

The problem is, the girl got away. In other words, boys meet girl, girl chooses one as her favorite, but they never ever hold hands or kiss, and in the end, after college, she marries a businessmen a few years old than her old high schools pals. Game over.

But the movie is a wonderful ride down memory lane, and it casts a sweet spotlight on Taiwanese youth culture in a way that no local movie here has done before. Much like similar high school coming-of-age movies from France or Italy, complete with teenage pranks and unanticipated classroom antics, "You Are the Apple of My Eye" should become a classic in world cinema and it's right up there with the best of the genre.

However, this being Taiwan, the movie has its "Taiwan Moments" and Westerners not familiar with Taiwanese family life and teenage angst might find some of the movie's scenes a bit on the wild side of culture shock. It's a good learning experience, if nothing else. Early scenes of two boys masturbating in the back row of their classroom while the female teacher writes out some lessons plans on the blackboard up front take some getting used to. Did director Ko really have to show that?

And while there is a boy nicknamed "Boner" in school because he seems to always have a boner going on under his pants, the visual gag joke wears thin after a while, especially after several close-up shots crop up in the two-hour movie. When Boner goes to the airport to fly to America at the end of the movie, his father says goodbye to him at the airport and guess what? Poppa is shown with a boner embracing Boner his son. The gag seems a bit juvenile.

The soundtrack carries the film, and the acting ensemble is picture perfect, with outstanding performances by the entire cast. But will the movie play well overseas in
North America and Europe, after a very profitable Asian road show? The there have yet to weigh in.

A funny film, it has done well in Taiwan and Hong Kong and China, and should find an audience in Japan and South Korea as well. But much of the story is so closely set in a non-Western cultural milieu that viewers in Los Angeles and London might find it hard to sit still for the entire 110 minutes.

Ko Chen-tung, Michelle Chen and Hao Shao-wen shine as part of the ensemble cast, and there are well-edited English subtitles. I enjoyed the movie when I recently saw it on cable TV here.

One critic has compared Ko's debut film as a close cousin to "American Pie" and it's been dubbed "Taiwanese Pie" by some. It does have its gross-out moments and its lame jokes and ''boys just want to be boys'' humor. Unlike most Taiwanese movies, this one does not take place in Taipei, the nation's big city capital, but in a sunny, southern city called Changhua, and the local scenes are eye-catching and worth catching on a DVD if you can find it.

The teachers come across in a bad light, and one scene where the students rudely call their teacher "asshole'' and "douchebag" to his face without any reaction on his part seems to be part of a world other than the Taiwan I have come to know over the past 15 years.

Still, all in all, "You are the Apple of My Eye" has a bunch of wonderful moments and is a keeper for sure. In this case, a few bad apples of crass scenes and dialogue don't spoil the entire barrel, but they come close to spoiling the fun.

Had the movie been better edited and used better judgment in its choice of sexual humor — and cut to a more viewable 90 minutes — Ko's freshman effort would have soared to a higher place in Taiwan's movie archives. See it if you want to know what makes Taiwan tick. It's a very honest flick.