REVIEW: Your Name Engraved Herein, a tearjerker about teenage sexual identities

Edward Chen and Tseng Jing-hua in Your Name Engraved Herein. (Photo: Netflix)
Jia-han (Edward Chen, left) and Birdy (Tseng Jing-hua) have a conflicted relationship in Your Name Engraved Herein. (Photo: Netflix)

Rating: R21
Length: 114 minutes
Director: Patrick Liu
Cast: Edward Chen, Tseng Jing-hua, Leon Dai, Jason Wang, Fabio Grangeon
Language: Mandarin with English, Malay or Chinese subtitles

Released on Netflix on 23 December 2020

3.5 out of 5 stars

SINGAPORE — Your Name Engraved Herein is Taiwan’s top-grossing LGBTQ film, and one of only two films in Taiwan’s cinemas this year to make NT$100 million (S$4.7 million) in ticket sales.

It won Best Cinematography for Yao Hung-i at the Golden Horse Film Awards, while the theme song, also titled Your Name Engraved Herein, won Best Original Film Song.

A semi-autobiography based on the experience of gay director Patrick Liu Kuang-hui (22nd Catch), Your Name Engraved Herein was produced by Arthur Chu Yu-ning (It Started With A Kiss, In Time With You), and co-written by both filmmakers.

The story follows two teenagers who fall in love at a boarding school just as martial law is lifted in Taiwan in 1987 after 38 years.

Jia-han (Edward Chen) and Po-te (Tseng Jing-hua), who calls himself Birdy after the title of the Nicolas Cage movie, explore their relationship while struggling with their gay identities.

Jia-han follows the teaching of their Canadian school priest and music teacher, Father Oliver (Fabio Grangeon) – profiter du moment, or “live in the present” – and wants to take his relationship with Birdy further.

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But Birdy, though a free-spirited aspiring filmmaker, finds it more difficult to come out and acknowledge that he is gay (or bi?), and repeatedly pushes Jia-han away though the two are obviously attracted to each other.

The story doesn’t develop much further than this recurring conflict resulting from Birdy’s self-repression, but there are many scenes of the two sharing happy times together in between tortured arguments over their relationship.

Both lead actors portray their characters and conflicted relationship very well. One stand-out scene is a shower scene that marks a sexual milestone between Jia-han and Birdy. Chen and Tseng perfectly bring out the nuances of the desire and distance that exist between them.

A touching telephone call scene where Jia-han plays a love song he wrote for Birdy (the award-winning theme song) would likely turn on the waterworks for many viewers.

Edward Chen and Tseng Jing-hua in Your Name Engraved Herein. (Photo: Netflix)
The teenagers explore their relationship while struggling with their gay identities. (Photo: Netflix)

The heartfelt romantic storyline is marred, however, by a flawed script.

The last act of the film inexplicably fast-forwards the timeline by 20 years and transports the characters, now adult and played by Leon Dai and Jason Wang, to a current-day setting in Montreal on the pretext of them attending the funeral of their former teacher, Father Oliver. This odd screenplay choice could be due to the film being partly funded by the Canadian government.

What is also lacking is some social commentary to reflect the backdrop of Taiwan emerging from draconian martial law restrictions.

But the wider socio-political context is only hinted at by harsh discipline masters at the school and a gang of homophobic students who go around beating up gay classmates.

Liu paid homage to the famous real-life Taiwanese gay activist, Chi Chia-wei, in a scene where the character is arrested by police during his one-man protest for LGBTQ equality.

The film is a bittersweet romance and tear-jerker that’s great for gay representation, and it helps that both lead actors are eye candy. But if you had to watch only one queer drama from Taiwan this year, this reviewer recommends Dear Tenant over Your Name Engraved Herein – the former focuses on the relationship between a gay man and his dead partner’s family.

While Dear Tenant addresses a refreshing subject – the love that exists within queer families – Your Name relies on tragic tropes that seem a bit dated in 2020, an era when Taiwan has legalised gay marriage even as the struggle for LGBTQ equality in the territory continues.