There have been many blockbusters high school romance films from Taiwan, but often the storyline isn't very diverse and always follows the repetitive formula. But GF*BF (2012) directed by Yang Ya-Che was able to look outside of the box and create this memorable masterpiece that tackles high school romance, political history, diverse representations and voices. Director Yang's passionate about social issues and often use film to become the platform for magnifying the problem of society.
GF*BF, a love triangle between two boys (Aaron and Liam) and a girl (Mabel) who were all best friends in high school, during the historical student democratic movement in Taiwan back in the 1980s (the period before the Martial Law ended). During the time, anti-dictatorship and freedom fighters were speaking up for equality, transparency and freedom.
In this film, young Mabel, Liam and Aaron were fighting for changes during the most conservative era. They were young, energetic and daring to do anything like jumping into the river from a cliff. Indeed, they do not shy away from showing their feelings to the one they loved. Mabel is in love with Aaron, Liam is in love with Mabel, and Aaron in love with Liam. With all things, they lived their best selves while they were young. Thirty years later, they all caught up together, but their memories and feeling still tangle undeniably.
“If there's no desire, freedom wouldn't exist." Director Yang
As they grew up, they lost that youthful energy, courage and recklessness. There were many doubts about life floating in their heads. When Mabel was trying to trespass to a private pool, to search for that passion she once had and came to a realization that she is no longer the same person as she was 30 years ago.
For the viewers, we tend to expect more of a continuation of their friendship. Director Yang certainly tricked us as the three of them did not get closer but instead, drift apart as time goes by. The garden of magnolia flowers as part of the symbolism of their friendship and time. These magnolia flowers appeared again 30 years later when a street lady was selling them; it’s something they want to hold on to, but it’s the past that they can never go back to.
“He's been telling me that I was the only one who would suffer for him. In fact, we are all suffering anyways," Liam said to Mabel when he finally came out to her as gay. 30 years later, they didn’t become best friends but somehow they understand each other’s pain. The relationship they were in was so fragile that it can easily break like thin ice.
Liam, the one who had participated fully in the democratic movement, became manipulated by the power and money; Mabel, who was going all-in for love, became compromising on everything; and Aaron, who was looking for a same-sex partner, had decided to hide his identity and search for self-recognition silently.
The detail of the set and cinematography was done in such detail. When the Martial Law was in place, despite the fact that the social system was rigid, plenty of scenes were outdoors representing youth and energy. After the characters heading to mid-age, most scenes were indoors, indicating the thoughts of them becoming isolated. The cinematography style, tracks and tripods were vastly used when shooting the youthfulness of characters. In contrast when filming an adult, often done by handheld cameras to reflecting that unsecured and doubts about life.
The film was released in 2011, just a year before the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan. The younger generation inheriting democracy and freedom from the predecessors bravely guarded the value of democracy. In resemblance of the Wild Lily Student Movement (also shown in this film), the movement boated the rage and vision of the generation, creating more collective memory for the people on this land. Director Yang has been through the Wild Lily Student Movement, this film is a love letter tributing to the era for the people on the same land twenty years later.