I’m now forced to take back every rash generalisation I’ve ever made about Taiwanese films. This one is brilliant, and I couldn’t help but love it.
Blue Gate Crossing has the same slow pace, and is imbued with the same minimalist realism, as every other Taiwanese film I’ve seen. But where other Taiwanese films either bore me senseless or force me to leave the cinema in high dudgeon, this one had me enthralled. I’d have watched the whole thing again immediately, if I’d had the chance, which is not something I’d say about too many films.
The magic here, I think, comes from the characters and the acting. Of the three main characters, all seemed real and immediate, and two of the three were entirely charming. Only Liang, as Lin, failed to move me much, but then she was playing a rather self-centred pretty girl, and that’s a role in which it’s hard to shine. She was also the least important character of the three, in terms of the story.
One aspect of the film that drew me in immediately was the minimal use of dialogue. Contrary to what we’re shown by Hollywood, teenagers don’t discuss their feelings with each other: rather, they often tend to be silent, either sullen or shy or tongue-tied. And despite their youth, or perhaps because of it, these three young actors made their simple but endearing characters come to life. Chen’s shy smile was perfect, and perfectly endearing, while Guay’s preoccupied scowl managed to convey anger, confusion, embarassment, indecision, or shyness, all as the occasion demanded.
I confess that one of the features of this film that I appreciated was the fact that Zhang was a swimmer, and resorted to lonely night-time training when perplexed or worried. The fact that they used a real swimmer pleased the persnickety part of me, the part that complains loudly when film-makers are shoddy in their details. Zhang as swimmer made him more real, for me, and brought back emotion-drenched memories of arduous training and the calming feel of water slipping past. And I won’t deny that watching attractive young men swimming is more appealing than many other things that could fill a frame or two.
But despite the aquatic benefits, the real charmer was Guey Lun Mei, as Meng Kerou. Not an obvious charmer, by any means. No large US animation house (names not mentioned) would pick either that face or that character as lead female. Too plain. Too silent. Too serious. Luckily, director Yee thought differently, and so we’re given the gift of Guey essaying the marvellously spiky Meng. She effortlessly outshines her prettier and more conventional friend, and makes it easy for us to believe that the cutest boy in school could fall for her.
Words fail me at this point, which is unusual. I’ll trail off gracelessly, therefore, saying only that if you see only one Taiwanese film in your life, it should be this one.