[media-credit id=15 align=”aligncenter” width=”555″][/media-credit]A rare occurrence took place at the beginning of last fall: A Taiwanese movie took, and held, the top box office spot. Even rarer, it was not an action or martial arts movie, but rather a simplistic, charming romantic comedy. You Are the Apple of My Eye (Na xie nian, wo men yi qi zhui de nu hai, literally “In those days, the girl we chased after”) tells a coming-of-age story that stirred the memories of the Taiwanese and offers a fascinating and often amusing glimpse of young Taiwanese life for Americans. You Are the Apple of My Eye is based off of a semi-autobiographical novel by author Giddens Ko, who also made his directorial debut.
The movie follows the adventures of troublemaker Ko Ching-teng (Zhendong Ke) and his friends as they all simultaneously pursue the top-student in their class, Shen Chia-yi (Michelle Chen). After being forced to sit behind star student Chia-yi, prankster Ching-teng changes his stripes and begins studying hard with Chia-yi’s help. They grow close and even after they go their separate ways to college remain together—though childishness and naivety keep them from becoming an item. After an argument, they are torn asunder and fall out of contact for years. The story begins and ends with their happy reunion—the time in between learning what it truly means to love somebody.
The film follows the simple rom-com formula of boy meets girl, boy chases girl, boy loses girl for almost the whole movie. The movie only diverts from the formula at the very end as Ching-teng comes to a touching and surprisingly mature realization, fulfilling the film’s other role of coming-of-age story as the boy becomes a man.
Even though You Are the Apple of My Eye is a far superior movie, it almost seems like an American Pie for Taiwan. Though certainly a more conservative culture than ours, the humor is sometimes plenty crass. From the rather public “incident” that forces Ching-teng to move seats in front of Chia-yi to the “four-legged monster” in the dorm showers—though perhaps tame to Americans—was racy to Asians, earning it a NC-16 rating for its Singapore release. Underneath the all the provocative grime, a genuine and charming story of growing up shines through. The boys’ often painfully awkward attempts at wooing girls, frustrations with trying to enter college and ignoble acts of immaturity resulting in heartbreak are all easily relatable, no matter the country or place. Even the phallocentric humor reflects a relatable, nostalgic time and place that fades away as the characters grow into adults.
What truly makes You Are the Apple of My Eye a treat to American audiences though is the revelation of student life in Taiwan. Things that are familiar and commonplace in Taiwan (students cleaning the school, tests that single-handedly determine your fate, or teachers moving room to room rather than students) reek of the exotic and unfamiliar. This isn’t a film that celebrates Taiwan’s rich culture so much as embraces it and lives alongside it.
Despite a strong story, the director’s debut feature is far from technically perfect. The sound is uneven between camera cuts in scenes and cheesy flashbacks at the end are overly sentimental. The most laughable moment in the movie is the poor special effects (or lack thereof) that recreate the massive 921 earthquake that shook Taipei in 2009. The quake that claimed over 2000 lives is reduced to a few camera shakes.
Even with its shortcomings, You Are the Apple of My Eye proves to American audiences why it was so popular in Taiwan. It broke records for a Chinese-language movie in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and China upon its release largely thanks to its saucy retelling of growing up, encapsulating so many people’s own experiences. Despite the language and culture gaps that come with watching a foreign film, You Are the Apple of My Eye offers a entertaining and stirring glimpse of adolescence in Taiwan and the desires and memories that bind us all together no matter the culture or landscape.