Film Review: Girlfriend Boyfriend

Taiwanese nationalism provides a weird backdrop to a moody romantic triangle that stretches out over three decades.

An attractive cast boosts the otherwise mopey Girlfriend Boyfriend, which drags out a romantic triangle over three decades of Taiwanese politics. Writer-director Ya-Che Yang has mounted an impressive production, but can't sustain a storyline that's both predictable and repetitive. Prospects here look weak.

The liveliest scenes in the film take place in 1985, when high-school classmates Mabel (Lun Mei Gwei), Liam (Joseph Chang) and Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan) rebel against the oppressive discipline hemming in their lives with graffiti, fireworks and punk haircuts. Mabel, whose mother soon abandons her, throws herself at Liam, but he confesses to Aaron that he doesn't love her. Aaron does, but can't get Mabel to commit to him.

In 1990, the country is still under martial law. Liam and Aaron, now college students, take part in campus demonstrations that draw riot police. Liam reveals to Mabel that he is attracted to Aaron. Mabel realizes that Aaron is falling for a wealthy girl with political connections.

By 1997, all three are out of school. Liam is in the midst of an unsatisfying affair with a married man. Mabel pretends that she is happy with her arrangement with Aaron, who is married to a politician's daughter. But when she learns that she is pregnant, Mabel faces tough decisions about her future.

A novelist who has worked extensively in television, Ya-Che Yang understands how minute choices and gestures can doom relationships, and can detail precisely the desire and jealousy that drive Mabel, Liam and Aaron. That doesn't mean the three are fun to hang around with. Withdrawn, self-absorbed, hypersensitive, they spend most of the film drinking and holding grudges.

All three look good even while crying, with Chang perhaps most affecting as a gay man during a time when homosexuality was still illegal. Vaughan can't do much with a role that requires him to be a cad to just about everyone he meets. Forced to wear an unflattering wig later in the film, Lun Mei Gwei is more persuasive as a bouncy but crafty student in her early scenes.

The opening of Girlfriend Boyfriend hews closely to last year's You Are the Apple of My Eye, a dramedy about lovelorn Taiwanese students that was a massive hit throughout Asia. Viewers expecting something along those lines are likely to be disappointed with the worn-out thirty-something clichés Ya-Che Yang ultimately offers.

There's no question that Yang is committed to his material, and long stretches of Girlfriend Boyfriend have the honest, lived-in feel of autobiography. It's too bad the characters can't get past statements like "I'm a miserable mess" or "At least one of us is happy—that's enough." (For the record, the onscreen title is Gf*Bf.)