“If what you give me is the same as what you give to others, then I don’t want it.” — Sanmao, Taiwanese writer
In a historic first for Asia, Taiwan, in May 2019, legalized same-sex marriages. Over a year later, Your Name Engraved Herein becomes the highest-grossing LGBTQ+ movie in Taiwan. It is something to celebrate.
The movie is based on the director’s — Patrick Liu — personal life and is set in a post-Martial Law Taiwan in 1987. It stars Edward Chen (Jia-han) and Jing-Hua Tseng (Birdy) in the lead. The Indian queer is sure to find semblances of vulnerability arising out societal oppression and disgust toward queer people, making it watch-worthy.
The movie opens when a counselor/Father is inquiring Jia-han about the events that led to bruises on his face. He asks him: “What did you get into a fight for love?” The student responds: “I don’t know what to say.” The next question makes him speechless: “Which class is she in?”.
Jia-han’s expression change and so does the Father’s. It made me ask whether the Father is gay — which turns out to be true. For me, this is occupational hazard as I review queer movies often. But the predictability of this element is by no means a put-off. Liu’s brilliant direction makes the story flow well in a rather tensed environment. His understanding of the natural growth of the characters’ pull toward each other is something I’ve never seen before. Intimacy is withheld. He shows it when the two boys are at their vulnerable most. He creates the atmosphere which is conducive for it; and it makes what Teo Bugbee calls a “believable chemistry” between the two in her review of the movie in The New York Times.
Nobody understands me in this world
In the Catholic school where Birdy and Jia-han are enrolled, a boy is beaten for being queer. He is called “virus,” and someone they must get rid of as he has the potential to “make others gay.” Birdy pulls the boy from the gang. This heroism, among other occasions, was charming enough for Jia-han to be attracted to Birdy. Later, we see them going on scooter rides and cinema, discussing music and Taiwanese writer Sanmao’s books.
But the spell broke too soon. That same year the school starts admitting girls. And Birdy starts seeing Banban, a girl from tenth grade.
“I thought the world revolved around us. How did I become an outsider all of a sudden?” Jian-han confesses to the Father when he was telling him the whole story about the bruises. Birdy’s disinterest in Jia-han creates a tension, advancing the story. Remembering this triggers Jia-han more, his questions turn into an angst of an unrequited love.
When the Father starts repeating what He/God wants, Jia-han shouts: “Didn’t He say, ‘Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened?’ I’ve been knocking so hard. Why doesn’t He hear it?” It is one of those moments that will ring true with you as a queer and might make you break into tears.
Love and other hazards
Other moment that will linger in my heart is when Jia-han calls Birdy from a telephone booth and says: “Everyone’s first love is as great as an epic movie.” He plays a song, which he says is penned by his senior, the titular song: Your Name Engraved Herein. I don’t know Taiwanese but the music and song’s lyrics in the subtitle were moving.
There are other unforgettable moments besides this one. But the movie has some obvious flaws, too. For example, why does a same-sex love portrayal need prettier, handsome, and lean people.
Toward the end, we find the lovers meet after 30 years in Canada. Banban and Birdy have divorced. And Jia-han is still head over heels in love with Birdy. Their reunion is more than recollecting the past: it’s an exercise in realizing that a lot has changed yet most things haven’t.