“Your Name Engraved Herein” (2020) Movie Review — How It Could’ve Been Better
I just finished the super-hyped 2020 Taiwanese gay film Your Name Engraved Herein on Netflix, featuring 24-year-old Edward Chen as Chang Jia-Han and 22-year-old Tseng Chin-Hua as Birdy (or Wang Po-Te).
What set this movie apart from the other gay idol dramas is definitely the casting of two handsome boys who can actually act. They brought the interpersonal drama, high school emo, and fun mischief to life, with very minimal corniness, which has been a idiosyncrasy plaguing Taiwanese dramas.
The themes of homosexuality, Christianity, homophobia, Taiwan’s conservative values, and family expectations were accurately portrayed in my opinion (as a Taiwanese American myself, to the best of my experience), and for that, I am deeply proud of this film.
However, while this was a good movie, it was not a tear-jerker. And here are 4 reasons why it missed that mark:
1. Birdy’s character development was missing an important turning point.
While Jia Han’s character development was the main focused and handled very well (from fearful/uncertain to brave/sure about his feelings and identity), Birdy’s character change was a bit confusing.
Birdy was portrayed in the beginning as someone who courageously stands up for what he believes in. He prevents a boy from getting beat up (as a result of homophobia), he tries to stop police from arresting a queer person protesting for gay rights, and he gets angry when they didn’t get to finish a not-so-conservative song they practiced for months. He knew himself, his beliefs, and was quick to defend them.
However, upon advances from female classmate Banban, he distances himself from Jia Han and eventually is afraid to fight for his true feelings and to be open about the love between him and Jia Han.
There needs to be an impetus for this — for example, a fight between him and his father showing how family pressures destroyed his idealistic demeanor and how his dare devil behavior was now being fueled by his contempt for having his courage, open self being destroyed. But there was no such scene, and it leaves the viewer confused by his sudden cowardice and dodginess.
On top of this, it would’ve been nice to see Jia Han emphasis more about how he fell in love and learned from Birdy’s bravery, and how mad we was at Birdy’s now cowardice. The emotional moments in the end could be about how much Birdy taught him to be courageous. Alternative ending is Birdy realizing how far he strayed from his original passion and idealism and a happy ending where he comes back to Jia Han.
2. The kissing was not passionate enough.
This didn’t bother me as much, but my friend who watched with me was very upset by the lack of passion in the kissing.
I agree on that point. I understand that maybe it’s an acting thing, but I think the director could have coached them a bit more to make the kissing more passionate. My friend was especially upset at the kiss on the beach, calling it awkward. I wouldn’t say it’s awkward, but it definitely lacks fire.
More passionate kissing would’ve helped us feel that their connection was more genuine, though Jia Han’s emotional burden from wanting to be with Birdy was enough in my opinion.
3. The crying needed more background/explanation.
Sometimes the emotional outbursts of shouting or crying felt lacking in explanation. It wasn’t that bad because I felt like the acting helped bring out those emotions (showing, not telling), but some more setup and communication leading up to the emotional scenes may have helped make this an actual tear-jerker.
Several pieces are there, but they may just need to be slightly re-arranged, with some build-up. Though at 1 hour 54 minutes, I understand the difficult in simply “adding” more to the movie when it’s important to keep it under 2 hours.
4. The main theme song felt too random.
It’s a good song, but for it to be written by an older classmate seems too distant. And he just randomly plays it. There isn’t much emotional build up to it or sentimental value to it in terms of its source. It’s more of a summary of the story that could’ve been handled better to evoke strong emotions from the audience. They cry uncontrollably from the song, but there needs to be more setup for us to actually feel like crying along.
In conclusion, even though there are some things that could’ve pushed this movie into a top-level masterpiece, it is already, in it’s current, a masterful, ground-breaking piece of Taiwanese queer art that I am so thankful and proud of! I hope the areas of improvement can be worked on to make even better films in this genre in the future! :)
Good night (WANAN),