The 11th Annual New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 29th through July 15th in NYC.

Taiwan, 2011
North American Premiere
109 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles
Directed by: Giddens Ko
Starring: Michelle Chen, Ko Chen-tung, Owodog, Steven Hao, Wan Wan

Teen sex comedies are often thought to be an American exclusive, but while Hollywood is the clear leader in the genre (for better or worse) they’re not the only ones dabbling in diddling. South Korea’s Sex Is Zero (my review here) is a great example of real heart and crass laughs working together successfully, but tonal issues in the third act might make it a difficult film for Western audiences to fully accept.

Taiwan’s blockbuster You Are the Apple of My Eye is a bit more mainstream though as it tempers both the sexual hi-jinx and broad laughs in exchange for a romantic nostalgia for teenage relationships. Young love is a common theme that should transcend international borders, and if all else fails there’s a high ratio of masturbation strokes per minute to entertain and confound.

The film opens with Ko-Tang (Zhendong Ke) preparing for a wedding, but it’s not immediately clear whose nuptials these are. To answer that question the movie jumps back in time to Ko-Tang’s high school days in 1994 where we’re introduced to his four closest friends and the girl they all loved. He and Tsao are the only guys to escape a nickname as the remaining three include the unfortunate Boner, A-Ho and Groin. Shen Chia-Yi (Michelle Chen) is the singular object of their affection, and the film follows the gang’s effort over a couple of years to grow, have fun and win her heart.

“The cruelest part in growing up is that girls are always more mature than guys of the same age. No guy can handle girls at their own age.”

It’s an ensemble film, but the relationship between Ko-Tang and Chia-Yi is the main focus. He begins as the only one not enamored by her smarts, beauty and personality, but when a prank finds the two paired together so she can keep him in line their combativeness becomes a friendship that slowly becomes something more. She’s focused and he’s a goofball, but smart writing and performances help keep most of the film fresh and relatable as the group eventually graduates high school and heads off to separate colleges.

I say “most” because there is an affection for jerking off in the film’s most boldly comedic scenes that clearly stretch the bounds of true life. A air guitar-like masturbation contest in the back of the class room complete with choreographed movements and audio riffs? An outward facing dorm-room circle jerk? I had close friends in school, but it never occurred to us to spank our collective monkeys together. Maybe I’m just a prude?

Giddens Ko makes his feature directorial debut here, and he’s aided by a close association to the material. It’s based on his own novel which itself was based on his own life. Epic chicken choking aside his film succeeds based on its rare honesty when it comes to the emotions and actions of teenagers struggling with life and love. Hi only real misstep here is with an ending that literally replays three minutes worth of scenes to sum up the entire movie to that point. It saps the otherwise emotional third act of much of its power in exchange for reminding people what they’ve seen in the past 100 minutes.

You Are the Apple of My Eye has some elements unique to Taiwan, mostly involving the school system, but for the most part it’s a funny and sweet look back at confusing and emotionally turbulent times recognizable to us all. Comparisons to American Pie are easy to make but ultimately don’t ring true as unlike that series and Sex Is Zero the focus here aims for an organ several inches above the groin… regardless of how many times that groin is yanked.

Grade: B

The 11th Annual New York Asian Film Festival runs from June 29th through July 15th in NYC.


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