Staff Review/ You Are the Apple of My Eye

Digital Reporter Michael Lyons reviews You Are the Apple of My Eye

When a director rips up the manual and does their own thing, I am the first one to give praise. It takes bravery to deviate from the norm, but sometimes you just need to stick to the formula, because it works. Giddens Ko’s semi-autobiographical film is a boy-meets-girl tale with a twist. That twist left me puzzled and unsatisfied. However, this film does have many redeeming qualities – beautiful cinematography and farcical wit.

Set in Taiwan, You Are the Apple of My Eye is a coming of age story about Ching-Teng Ko (Zhendong Ke), spanning from 1994-2005. At the beginning, Ko and his friends are in high school and all they can think about is chasing after Chia-Yi Shen (Michelle Chen), a pretty but studious girl. As the film progresses, Ching-Teng Ko and Chia-Yi Shen grow closer together; the latter has been asked to help the former with his studies. Suddenly, it is time to go off to college, and this blossoming couple are forced apart. Can their relationship last? You will have to watch to find out.

I have a fair bit of ambivalence for Gidden Ko’s first feature film – it starts off very strongly before struggling with growing pains. The beginning is playful and jovial; the viewer is introduced to Ching-Teng Ko’s friends with a freeze frame for each one. Giddens Ko has no doubt been influenced by American cinema; the freeze frames and use of narration seems akin to Goodfellas, but in terms of humour, You Are The Apple of My Eye is most similar to American Pie or say Eurotrip. So, expect a lot of phallocentric jokes. Ching-Teng Ko’s friends are rather caricatured characters, but are always on hand for comic relief. The montage which shows how each boy tries to woo Chia-Yi Shen is brilliant, and demonstrates this film has a sweeter side to it. Ching-Teng Ko and Chia-Yi Shen’s blossoming romance is nice to watch; the onscreen dynamic between Zhendong Ke and Michelle Chen seems very natural and well-oiled. At some point though, this film loses all its panache and direction. This innocent high school romance narrative turns into a grating melodrama, complete with a break-up in the rain and syrupy Asian pop music. Sadly, it never recovers and then just finishes making me think ‘what a waste’.

Giddens Ko’s eccentric directorial debut has smashed box office records in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore, but that is not to say, it doesn’t have its flaws. For all its artistic flare, it doesn’t half feel self-indulgent and misguided towards the end. The moral of the story is never clear and the conclusion is highly unsatisfactory, but I guess that leaves room for a sequel, which is being planned. Funny and sweet at its best, egocentric and pompous at its worst, I will leave it up to you decide which one it is.

You Are the Apple of My Eye screens on Tue 19 Feb as part of our Chinese Film Forum UK Season. Tickets can be booked here.