Longtime friends Mabel (Lun Mei Gwei), Liam (Hsiao-chuan Chang) and Aaron (Fon Yuen Vaughan) were born in the same small town, deep in the far south of Taiwan. Now adults, new feelings arise between the trio which alter their childhood bonds forever: Aaron loves Mabel, but Mabel only has eyes for Liam, who likes her, but not in the way she expects. And Liam has never admitted it to anyone, but he's really in love with Aaron. While Liam remains impervious to all Mabel's displays of affection, Aaron steps up his pursuit until, eventually, Mabel gives in to his attentions...
Two boys and a girl meet in high school in Taiwan in 1985. Girl has major crush on Boy A but he fancies Boy B. Girl takes up with Boy B after A rejects her overtures.
So begins this fascinating although occasionally heavy-handed drama, a novel twist on the stereotypical romantic triangle, which charts the progress of this trio over more than two decades.
The performances by the three leads are exemplary.
The relationships ebb and flow, mirroring the vast political and social changes that transformed Taiwan from a repressed society into a more open, tolerant and democratic country.
Writer-director Yang Ya-che’s film opens in 1985 when the Taiwanese are labouring under the yoke of martial law. Classmates at a school in the southern region, Aaron (Rhydian Fon Yuen Vaughan), Mabel (Lun Mei Gwei) and Liam (Joseph Hsiao-Chuan Chang) are inseparable. Egged on by the feisty Mabel, the boys are leading lights in the protest movement, arousing the ire of the school’s ideology officers by publishing provocative material in the school magazine and painting slogans on the walls.
Mabel has the hots for Liam but he harbours secret feelings for the hunky Aaron. After Liam spurns Mabel’s affections, Aaron begins a romance with the girl.
The narrative then jumps to 1990 when the three are at university in Taipei. Although martial law has ended, the students stage anti-government protests demanding equality, liberty and a purer democracy. Aaron and Mabel seem supremely happy as he tells her he loves her in three languages. By now openly gay, Liam is beaten up at a protest rally and he reveals his feelings for Aaron.
Fast forward to 1997, and long-simmering tensions between the three erupt. The epilogue is set in 2012, when there is a reconciliation of sorts.
The performances by the three leads are exemplary. Thanks to the actors’ artistry plus expert hair, make-up and lighting, each character ages convincingly, which is no small feat considering the narrative’s time-span.
Gwei’s Mabel evolves from a playful and spunky teenager into a thoughtful, mature and sensitive woman who wrestles with the shifting dynamics with the two men in her life.
Vaughan’s Aaron is similarly impressive as an outwardly straight, strong and ambitious man who struggles with his sexual identity.
Chang’s Liam is the most nuanced and fully developed character, an intelligent and lonely guy who yearns to love and be loved. He won the best actor gong at the 2012 Taipei Film Festival awards.
The one jarring note is Bryan Shu-Hao Chang as Sean, a flamboyantly gay young man who seems to be a mouthpiece for the writer-director’s views on tolerance and acceptance; oddly, he got the festival’s supporting actor award.
Yang’s screenplay drags at times, lingering on the protest movement at the expense of focusing on the leading trio, and the third section involving the corrupt nexus between business and government is didactic.
Cinematographer Jake Pollock favours revealing close-ups which engender an appealing intimacy with the threesome and their travails. It’s Yang’s second feature following Orz Boyz, for which he won best director at the 2008 Taipei fest.