What you need to know
'Your Name Engraved Herein' is deeply rooted in Taiwan's history. But the film’s popularity may be more derived from its message that resonates beyond time and place.
“Everyone’s first love is epic” is the mantra of Your Name Engraved Herein, the first major gay-themed Taiwanese blockbuster since same-sex marriage was legalized last year.
The film has broken this year’s box office record in Taiwan, earning over NT$30 million in revenue less than a week since its September 30 premiere, attracting large audiences outside the LGBT+ community and fans.
Your Name Engraved Herein takes place at a Taichung Catholic high school in early 1988 — right after Taiwan had lifted martial law. Setting the film at this time binds Taiwan’s democratization and liberalization to the blossoming of an open gay culture, imbuing the story with political and historical depth often lacking in romance films.
This connection between the personal and political is made clear in the opening scene narrated by A-Han, the main character played by Edward Chen. A-Han confesses his love for a classmate, Birdy (Tseng Jing-hua), to their band instructor, Father Oliver (Fabio Julien Victor Grangeon), a French-Canadian priest. After Father Oliver’s hesitation to bless the couple’s gay love, A-Han’s voice fades into the government’s announcement of the end of martial law.
A-Han’s narration of entering the all-boys dormitory gives a glimpse of the authoritarian and homophobic ethos of the time, ranging from army instructors at the school frequenting harsh physical punishment upon students, to homophobic bullying between classmates. A-Han quickly realizes the perils of being outcast, bullied, or worse, as he discovers his attraction to Birdy.
Their relationship becomes romantically intimate on a trip to Taipei to represent their school at President Chiang Ching-kuo’s funeral. They bump into legendary gay-rights activist Chi Chia-wei, as he is arrested for posting marriage equality placards on Taipei Bridge. But their love for each other is only fully revealed when they sing the classic “” by Tsai Lan-chin, who died close to the film's setting in 1987 at 22 years old. Mortality lingers over their conversations on the trip, which transitions to a summer spent in a bliss of movie-watching and motorcycle rides.
The film handles the trope of summer love scuttled by the return to school with creativity. Despite peer pressure to distance himself from Birdy, A-Han unflinchingly chooses his love over his long-time friends and comes to terms with his sexual orientation. He validates his orientation by talking to underclassmen victims of bullying and becomes more sympathetic to their cause.
Birdy, however, tries to distance himself from A-Han and attempts to set him up with Ban-ban (Mimi Shao), a newly accepted student in their band as the school begins admitting girls. The three become entangled in a love triangle, as Birdy tries to date Ban-ban himself.
The tensions come to head when Ban-ban is expelled for dating Birdy, which indirectly draws Birdy and A-Han back together, temporarily, as they run away together to Penghu island. This would be their last meeting for 33 years.
The second coda is the couple’s reunion at the death of Father Oliver, the priest who hears A-Han’s confession in the film’s opening scene.
Your Name Engraved Herein is a film deeply rooted in history, making the oppressiveness of Taiwan’s martial law period feel present through an authoritarian Catholic school’s strictures on love. In a similar way, the country’s liberalization is expressed through progress in gay liberation and LGBT equality. The film places this struggle as the centerpiece of Taiwan's growing self-identity as a progressive liberal democracy.
But the film’s popularity may be more derived from its message that resonates beyond time and place. Besides the mantra “Everyone’s first love is epic,” another key line in the film is “Live in the moment,” a message instilled by Father Oliver into his students. Except for A-Han, who is at peace with his sexuality, it’s the main struggle all the characters face — Father Oliver included. The obstacles to being true to our desires are primarily social and political, but they can also come from within.
Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)
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