Sometimes it pays to hang around for the end credits. As the final acknowledgements of Giddens Ko's semi-autobiographical You Are the Apple of My Eye unspooled at this year's deliriously varied New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), the more quick-eyed members of the audience could read: "The plotline of masturbating in the classroom depicted in the film has been performed by professionally trained actors; please do not imitate or attempt it."
As you might now correctly guess, this quirky rendering of director/writer Ko's first love that lasted from his days in high school in 1994 to his post-college years as a novelist in 2005 is very crotch-oriented.Two boys have a jerking-off contest at the back of their classroom to see who will come first. In a college dorm, all four roommates try to get off simultaneously while playing computer games. And then there's one poor lad who seems to be suffering from priapism, displaying a tented groin area even when he's bicycling or hugging his parents.
He's not the hero, however. That title goes to his pal, the 16-year-old Ko Ching-teng (Ko Chen-tung), who's a pathetic student grade-wise but a popular class clown. An extrovert when it comes to hijinks but an introvert when it comes to expressing his emotions, Ko Chen-tung apparently has a fetish for Bruce Lee, so he punches walls a lot while jumping about naked in his home. (Dad's nude, too, at the dining room table.) His adolescent behavior causes his parents some minor concern, which escalates when he notes, "I'm not interested in boys. I'm not interested in girls either."
But that's a fib of sort. Like his four best friends, Ko Ching-teng has a crush on the awfully winsome Shen Chia-yi (Michelle Chen), a scholarly sort if there ever was one. So how can this water-and-oil pair hitch up?
Well, after his English teacher commands Ko Ching-teng to stand up and recite from a text, therefore discovering the lad's pants are on the floor and his penis is erect (see paragraph two), she reports him to principal, who screams:
"Jerking off right in class. I have been a teacher for so many years. Have seen students who cheat, get into fights, blackmail or even those who beat up teachers. I have seen all kinds of problematic students, but no perverts like you!"
Ko Ching-teng: "I didn't even ejaculate."
Principal: "And that's an excuse?"
Ko Ching-teng's punishment is to be overseen by Shen Chia-yi, who though not at first happy about the task, decides to make lemonade from her lemon. She will transform her charge into a C+ student. Can love be far off?
Apparently a major success in Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and other territories, the NYAFF catalog claims Apple is "one of the most influential and popular Taiwanese films of all time" and has broken numerous box office records. Well, if Bad Teacher with Cameron Diaz can earn over 100 million, which was also lap-focused, and Porky's can be a trendsetter in the States, why not Apple in Taiwan?
Periodically charming with moments here and there of true humor shoehorned in, Apple is more often blatantly simpleminded. Think National Lampoon Goes to Secondary School. But then, American low-brow camp comedies don't always fly overseas, and conceivably vice versa. The huge appeal of this throwaway "funfest" might then be cultural. Perhaps this film is daring, or possibly it captures for a generation what it was to come of age in the Nineties. In the end, this homage to post-puberty is mostly painless fun that ends on bittersweet note with a rehash of the highs and lows of the duo's relationship, but then, don't a lot of romances? - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Queer Theater" and "Theater of the Sixties" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. RifkindCenter. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).