You Are the Apple of My Eye is one of the most popular novels and, more recently, one of the most popular Taiwanese movies of the last ten years. The Mandarin title ‘Nà Xiē Nián, Wǒmen Yīqǐ Zhuī de Nǚhái’ (那些年，我們一起追的女孩) roughly means “Those Years, The Girl We Pursued Together,” and I think that’s a more accurate description of this story.
The story starts with a senior high school student, Ko Ching-teng, in Changhua. Changhua is to Taiwan as Indiana is to the United States, in other words, a place generally not known to people outside of Taiwan that is noted for … not being very interesting (the tourist town of Lukang nonwithstanding).
Ko Ching-teng and all his buddies have a crush on the same girl, Shen Chia-yi. The story is basically about the progression of Ko Ching-teng’s relationship with Shen Chia-yi in senior high school, college, and afterwards.
About Giddens Ko
So, I’ve talked about Giddens before, but considering that this is one the most popular novels he ever wrote *and* he is the director of this movie, I think it’s time to talk more about him.
Last time, I talked about one of Giddens’ quasi-wuxia stories. Well, in addition to writing quasi-wuxia, he also writes high school romance. That in itself is rather admirable.
Notice the “Ko” in “Giddens Ko.” It’s the same as the “Ko” in “Ko Ching-teng.” “Giddens” of course is a pen name; his name in real life is … Ko Ching-teng. That’s right. Though this is labelled as fiction, the novel is basically a memoir (though I don’t know to what extent it is accurate and to what extent Giddens has changed things for entertainment purposes).
This is not going to be the last time I talk about Giddens, so I think that’s enough for now.
Novel vs. Movie
It’s striking just how different the novel is from the movie. I think this is actually a good thing. I can’t really imagine the novel working well as a movie, and most of the changes do make the story more cinematic.
First of all, the time frame of the movie is shorter than the novel. The novel starts when Ko Ching-teng is 12 years old, the movie … I’m not clear, but at the earliest the movie starts when Ko Ching-teng is 15 years old.
The movie focuses a lot on juvenile humor, and depicts Ko Ching-teng as your everyday class clown. The novel is much more centered on nostalgia, and the force of Ko Ching-teng’s thoroughly geeky personality is much more apparent. For example, the novel drops references to Windows 3.1 and TV shows which were popular in Taiwan in the early 1990s, all absent from the movie.
In the movie, Shen Chia-yi tutors Ko Ching-teng in English (well, not just English, but the movie focuses on the English). In the novel, IIRC, it says that that Chinese and English were the only subjects in school that Ko Ching-teng actually got good grades in because he was destined to become a novelist. Shen Chia-yi had to prod him into studying other subjects.
In fact, there are lots of changes between the novel and the movie. What doesn’t change is the main idea. And that’s the point. Anybody (who can read Chinese) who wants the novel can read the bloody novel. If communicating the main idea—that first love is valuable even if it doesn’t last—is what’s important, then the movie is actually rather faithful.
Look! It’s a Pingxi Sky Lantern!
The three main towns in the Pingxi District—Shifen, Pingxi, and Jingtong—are some of the most touristy towns in Taiwan. They are supposed to represent an idyllic rustic Taiwanese town (if you want to visit the area but without the hordes of tourists, I suggest visiting the little village of Lingjiao, between Shifen and Pingxi, which has some nice stuff, and is much quieter). Of course, my favorite town in the Keelung valley is Houtong, which is finally getting discovered (I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about that).
These are the train tracks right outside Jingtong’s quaint Japanese-era train station. If you’re seen the idol drama Devil Beside You (adapted from the manga The Devil Does Exist), then you might have noticed that the main characters also spend some time in Jingtong.
One of the most famous things about the Pingxi District is their custom of launching sky lanterns, in particular during the Lantern Festival (an island-wide celebration). Many tourists choose to launch their own sky lantern when they visit.
Now, I have been to the sky lantern festival in Shifen, and to be honest, I think it’s overrated. But my main objection to the sky lanterns is the environmental toll. The Pingxi district is a great place to go hiking—both for people who like easy strolls and people who like strenuous treks on knife-edge ridges—and the woods are filled with fallen lanterns. Made out of plastic. I think they should, at the very least, use some compostable material to make the lanterns, and if that makes it a lot more expensive, so be it. If the tourists don’t want to pay for it, then they can pass.
Of course, when I see this, I think about how kitchy this tradition has become, as well as the woods filled with discarded plastic. But in the context of the movie, it’s actually a nice symbol of the characters’ hopes.
About that Juvenile Humor
I have a confession to make.
I actually like the humor in this movie. Yes, even though much of it revolves around masturbation and erections and other sexual subjects.
But it works.
It works because it’s authentic. Giddens isn’t using the humor just to score lafs. This is a movie about the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and 1) many adolescents and young adults spend a lot of time masturbating and thinking about sex and b) it’s really awkward, and sometimes humor is the best way to talk about something awkward.
Why I Have Trouble Relating to the Movie
I didn’t have a “Shen Chia-yi” in my teenage years. There was nobody who I waxed romantically about even 10% as much Ko Ching-teng does about Shen Chia-yi. If I made a list of the things that I was most preoccupied with during my teenage years, “romance” would not make it to the top ten (likewise, the things that would appear in my top five don’t seem to be so important to Ko Ching-teng, at least not in this story). There is such a disconnect between my experience as a teenager and Ko Ching-teng’s experience as shown in both the novel and the movie, that I get the feeling that this story is not for me.
But that’s okay. Not all stories have to be about me. And the popularity of both the novel and the movie prove that it does resonate with a lot of people.
Availability in English
This movie is available on DVD with English subtitles.
Everybody I have asked says that the novel is better than the movie. I cannot argue with them. The novel gives a much deeper and more thorough description of Ko Ching-teng’s feelings, makes it easier to understand why Ko Ching-teng and Shen Chia-yi are attracted to each other, makes Ko Ching-teng seem more like a unique person, and makes it clearer why Ko Ching-teng and Shen Chia-yi are not actually a good match. I think Melinda Beasi would like the novel more that the movie too.
Yet I happen to like the movie more than the novel.
I respect the novel. But as I said earlier, it is not easy for me to relate to this … and there is page after page after page about Ko Ching-teng’s feelings.
The movie puts more emphasis on humorous hijinks. It’s more entertaining, and it’s much faster. And the movie still manages to get the main point across. Whee!
Next Time: North City, Book of a Hundred Drawings (manhua)
Sara K. thinks that the popularity of Giddens is evidence that Taiwan is a society of geeks. It’s probably more accurate to say the subset of the population that actually reads novels is extremely geeky, but even so, Giddens’ works have a much higher geek factor than the vast majority of bestsellers in the United States.