What is the story about?
Jia-han and Birdy, two boys at a Catholic school in Taiwan, become friends and grow closer to each other. Jia-han can’t stop thinking about Birdy, but their fragile bond is threatened by social stigma, Catholic strictness and Birdy’s interest in Banban, a new girl amongst several who have newly joined the school.
Netflix really needs to learn to market their films better. The trailer for Kuang-Hui Liu’s latest film, which broke records in Taiwan in September, only touches on the love story. Your Name Engraved Herein may have a queer love story at its centre, but it is not the only story waiting to be told here. There is an untold story in the hesitant, repressed convictions of the supportive Canadian priest and instructor to the boys, Father Oliver. There is an entire tale of sadness written on the face of an adult Banban, as she reminisces about the past and the pain it brought to her present. Above all, there are umpteen moments of tenderness and heartbreak hidden in the social stigma, silences and stolen moments attached to homosexuality in Taiwanese society at the end of the 1980s, when the country had just come out of martial law. Liu’s film shines in these moments, elevating what could’ve just been an average queer love story into a ruminative piece on loss and regret. There are moments and sequences which remind you of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, or even Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together. It’s poetic, it’s messy, it’s heartbreaking, it’s beautiful—and quite possibly, it’s Netflix’s finest film to come out of South-east Asia in 2020. If you crave for offbeat fare, you should give this film a chance.
The film belongs to Edward Chen and Jing-Hua Tseng, who poignantly convey the giddiness, desperation and tenderness of first unspeakable love as Jia-han and Birdy. Mimi Shao shines as the young Banban, while Waa Wei knocks it out of the park in that one scene as the adult Banban. Leon Dai and Shih-Shien Wang excel as the adult Jia-han and Birdy, and they provide a sort of fitting closure to the film. But the real scene-stealer is Fabio Grangeon’s Father Oliver, who struggles to reconcile his religion with his desires even as he acts as a confidant and counsellor to Jia-han.
Music & Other Departments
Hung-i Yao, who also shot the gorgeous 2018 film Long Day’s Journey Into Night, takes your breath away with his camerawork, with certain sequences reminding you of the work of Wong Kar-Wai. Chris Hou and Jason Huang’s score is beautiful, with the title track, sung by Crowd Lu, acting as the theme of the film.
There are too many memorable scenes, but two scenes immediately come to mind—the sequence where Jia-han, struggling with his sexuality, asks a classmate how he knew he was gay himself; and the scene near the end where Banban unburdens herself in front of Jia-han at the reunion.
The pace of the screenplay is deliberately slow by design, so this film is not for people who’re expecting things to happen every minute. Also, the theme of the film (homophobia) is likely to resonate with limited audiences, even though there is hardly any nudity.
The last half-hour of the film, which is set in Quebec, looks forced. Instead of keeping it for the end, it would’ve been better to intersperse this portion with the rest of the film’s screenplay.
Did I enjoy it?
Yes. It’s a beautiful love story, without getting too melodramatic.
Do I recommend it?
Yes, this is a must-watch for discerning audiences who want to see unique love stories.