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GF*BF
GF*BF

Rhydian Vaughan, Guey Lun-Mei and Joseph Chang tussle with love in GF*BF.
AKA: Girlfriend*Boyfriend
Chinese: 女朋友。男朋友  
Year: 2012
Director: Yang Ya-Che  
Writer: Yang Ya-Che
Cast: Joseph Chang, Guey Lun-Mei, Rhydian Vaughan, Bryan Chang Shu-Hao
The Skinny: Well-made drama from Yang Ya-Che explores friendship, sexuality and politics, but uses the latter merely as background. Despite the unexplored territory and a weaker third act, this is an attractive and affecting drama with performances and production values to spare. Guey Lun-Mei and Joseph Chang both excel.
   
Review
by Kozo:
Director Gilles Yang Ya-Che follows up his award-nominated Orz Boyz with GF*BF (a.k.a. Girlfriend*Boyfriend), an ambitious and well-made drama about a decade-plus-long love triangle. Taking place during three distinct time periods, the film opens in 1985, introducing us to Taiwan high-schoolers Mabel (Guey Lun-Mei), Liam (Joseph Chang) and Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan), three friends coming of age while living under martial law imposed by the Kuomintang. Despite this inherent tension, there’s youthful rebellion afoot as the kids sneakily break rules, sell outlawed magazines and generally show their defiance. However, what they can’t do is simply be honest with one another. Aaron likes Mabel, Mabel likes Liam, and Liam, well, Liam keeps making sidelong glances at Aaron. This is one love triangle that won’t resolve itself well.

GF*BF fits in nicely with Taiwan Cinema’s burgeoning international identity, showcasing Taiwan’s unique history while also belonging to one of its most fest-friendly genres: the gay youth romance. Both Guey Lun-Mei and Joseph Chang have starred in well-traveled iterations of the genre, one a neo-classic (Blue Gate Crossing) and the other a glossy bishonen melodrama (Eternal Summer), and Rhydian Vaughan was the object of one-sided gay affection in the blockbuster Monga. What do all these facts mean? Nothing really, except that gay romances don’t have much novelty in Taiwan, so the filmmakers better serve up something besides attractive actors and fan-baiting boys/girls love iconography. Yang Ya-Che does provide a few hooks: he’s got politics, history and also some very good actors. He also has Rhydian Vaughan.

The politics of GF*BF are well-portrayed but only serve as support, giving context to the characters without defining their lives. Nobody in GF*BF is selling an agenda; Aaron mouths off to authoritarian teachers and the kids plan a protest dance, but the main point in the film’s early going is seeing who Mabel ends up with. When the film jumps to 1990, she’s already hooked up with one of her two potential guys. Meanwhile, martial law has been lifted from Taiwan, and the characters take part in the Wild Lily student movement, when 300,000 Taiwanese ultimately turned out to support democratic reform. Aaron is a passionate student demonstrator while Mabel is only a part-time attendee. Liam may be present only to shadow Aaron. Among the three friends, only Aaron really seems to care about the future of Taiwan.

That’s just how it appears, though. Aaron is gradually revealed as a vain attention-seeker who chases his desires while blindly ignoring the damage he causes. But the focus is really on Mabel and Liam; each progresses through life with a piece of themselves missing, and Guey Lun-Mei and Joseph Chang nail the material with strong performances. Chang, in particular, gets to the heart of his role with little more than his eyes to communicate every emotion. Guey’s performance is nothing new, consisting of overdone sass and wounded soul, but she’s very good at both. Vaughan suffers by comparison; the film plays off his callow persona well, but Vaughan never shows much of Aaron’s inner self. Unlike Guey and Chang, Vaughan’s gazes reveal only what he’s looking at and not what he’s feeling. Without those emotions, BF*GF seems more like the story of two people instead of three.

Despite the familiarity of the character dynamic, Yang sets up his love triangle exceptionally well. This is the story of three people who know the score and deny it, creating a paper truth that will never stand the test of time. Each jump in time brings characters solidly forward, with truths revealed, hurt lingering or damage wrought. However, the final jump from 1990 to 1997 features backwards movement. The three should be even further along, but two characters regress precipitously, and no explanation is given as to how it all went down. Furthermore, politics have become a memory, only surfacing to demonstrate how compromised some characters are. There’s an interesting story there, but the film looks elsewhere, subjugating larger themes for an affecting but unremarkable look at love and friendship. There could have been more here, but Yang and GF*BF stay their well-traveled course.

Superficially, GF*BF is superlative. Yang Ya-Che knows when to speed things up via montage, and when to slow them down for key dialogue. One particular exchange, between the older Liam and Mabel, is remarkably well-staged, making up for the fact that it’s still a long monologue that explains everything the audience needs right when we need it. There’s also a framing device, featuring an even older Liam watching over twin girls whose real parents are suspiciously not around. The film explains these details just like it explains everything, with efficient, understandable and attractive feeling. GF*BF is a movie that’s notable not for what it says, as the story is familiar and there’s much left unexplored. But Yang Ya-Che tells the story well, and in movies that sometimes makes all the difference. (Kozo, 2012)

   
Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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