Describing that the relationship between three main characters in Taiwanese film “Girlfriend Boyfriend” is complicated is an understatement. As they get close to each other during their youthful years, they slowly realize how much their relationships are disjointed and entangled while also feeling how much they care about each other as friends. They want to be happy, but they are in an impossible situation, and they only come to see what cannot possibly happen, as they become older, wiser, and less idealistic than before.
After the prologue scene in 2012, we are introduced to Liam(Hsiao-chuan Chang), Mabel(Gwei Lun-Mei), and Aaron(Rhydian Vaughan) when they were young and rebellious as the students of a high school in the south region of Taiwan, 1985. It was the time when the Taiwanese government was oppressive to its people with its martial law, and that social aspect is reflected through the strict regulation of the student activities at the school. The school magazine is always censored before publication and distribution, and the female students always need a permit whenever they want to go out in the evening.
When Liam and Mabel are together, they look good as lovers to others. Mabel, a charming spunky girl who can mischievously cause a trouble and then can slyly take care of it later, is surely in love with Liam, but, although they spend a lot of time together while selling ‘used books’ outside the school, this good-looking guy does not talk a lot about what is in his heart except his sincere affection toward her.
We gradually come to see where his heart is directed while they hang around their mutual friend Aaron. Liam cares about Mabel, but he cannot love her as she wants, because he secretly carries a torch for Aaron, who, as a heterosexual guy, loves Mabel. As one South Korean critic said, this is indeed a perfectly circling triangle relationship; she loves him, he loves him, he loves her, and…
Their circumstance remains unresolved even when they graduate and go to the college as close friends. While they participate in the student demonstration demanding more freedom to the government, the shift in their relationships happens. Mabel’s heart is moved to Aaron, and that makes Liam feel more pains in his closeted heart. Drunk and frustrated due to what’s going on between his two dear friends, Liam attempts a very unwise thing at one night and dearly pays for his recklessness.
More years pass by. The things have changed around them in 1997, but their relationship is still stuck in where it has been since 1985 while they now become the members of the society with which they once clashed in the past. A good example is shown through the transformation of Aaron, who was a defiant student activist but now becomes a submissive son-in-law of some wealthy businessman.
The director/writer Ya-che Yang’s screenplay is sometimes murky about the details of his characters while trying to look at the bigger picture of the social changes they go through. The storyline feels discontinuous at several points because of that, but, thanks to its three talented actors who fill the gaps in the story, the movie mostly works as a wistful romance drama about youth and its inevitable decay. I must point out that they are a little too old to play high school teenagers(like me, Gwei Lun-Mei and Hsiao-chuan Chang were born in 1983), but they are engaging to watch; we get accustomed to them as their characters get older along the story, and the changes their characters go through during 27 years are believable in their good performances.
I noticed Gwei Lun-Mei for the first time in “Secret”(2007), a fantasy high school romance movie I enjoyed but did not like enough, and she looks here as lovely as she did in that movie. Her best moment is when her character comes to see what will not happen and then makes a sensible choice; it hurts, but she knows what is best for her recently changed situation.
Two lead actors are also crucial in making the development of the complicated relationship on the screen look convincing. While Rhydian Vaughan’s character is the least-defined one of the trio, his likable performance makes us understand a bit about why Mabel gets involved with him even after he is married. Hsiao-chuan Chang is poignant as a frustrated gay man who is more or less than being in the closet even when he finds someone else to love besides Aaron. He and his co-performers have one emotionally intense moment when their characters try to recapture their happy time in the past but bitterly discover that they and their friendship are not the same as before.
Because of the appearance of a more aged main character in the prologue sequence, you can probably guess what will eventually happen to them in the end. Although the story is not connected well to its determined ending which provides a little too easy exit for the story, the good performances compensate for its weaknesses, and I came to care about the characters.
Watching them aging and changing in one way or the other, I thought about how temporal youth is in our life. When you are young, everything looks so good and lively, and it looks like it will go on forever for you and your friends. But the time flies fast as it always has been, and you suddenly discover your youth belonging to the past – and you also find that you are not a girl/boy you remember any more, as watching another cycle of youth defiantly blossoming in front you.