A pair of handsome leads, a poignant theme song and a triumph at the box office. Your Name Engraved Herein, Taiwan’s top grossing LGBT-themed movie of all time, has many things going for it.
Set in a Christian all-boys school after the lifting of martial law in Taiwan in 1987, the movie stars Edward Chen as Chang Jia-han, a trumpet player in the school band who develops romantic feelings for bandmate Birdy (Tseng Jing-hua).
The duo bond over pranks, music and movies, sometimes falling asleep on top of each other as Jia-han’s bemused mother (Lotus Wang) looks on.
Their relationship however changes when the school starts to accept female students, and Birdy gets close to a girl. A tormented Jia-han grapples with his feelings.
First love, and a forbidden one at that, usually makes for stirring stuff. But the film, said to be inspired by director Patrick Liu’s own story, is hamstrung by weak writing.
The sensitive Jia-han confides in the band teacher, a Canadian priest, and questions why God exhorts love but frowns upon same-sex love. But the film addresses the clash between faith and homosexuality only in a glancing way – it is not even clear if Jia-han is religious or not.
Tseng’s Birdy is a mischievous outsider unafraid to march to the beat of his own drum, and his change in attitude towards Jia-han is out of character.
There is a sex scene set in a shower stall – but don’t expect any tenderness.
Taiwanese cinema has long excelled in examining the murmurs of the heart, from a student-teacher affair in Outside The Window (1973) to BGR school crushes in You Are The Apple Of My Eye (2011).
Nor are LGBT-themed movies all that new in Taiwan, which has come a long way since the publication of Pai Hsien-yung’s ground-breaking gay novel Crystal Boys (1983).
Along with the advance of gay rights in Taiwan, which legalised gay marriage in 2019, some of its LGBT-themed movies have moved away from a focus on youthful passion to issues like what happens when a gay partner dies, as seen in Dear Ex (2018) or Dear Tenant (2020).
While Your Name Engraved Herein has nothing new to say, it is elevated by its haunting theme song, written by Hooi Yuan Teng, Keon Chia and Tan Boon Wah, which was named Best Original Film Song at the 2020 Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan.
Also giving this ho-hum film a touch of class is Leon Dai as the older Jia-han. His face alone suggests much pain and sorrow, plumbing emotional depths that the movie’s two younger leads can barely touch.
Ming En is an editor based in Singapore who grew up on a diet of Taiwanese melodramas and loves a good laugh.