Blue Gate Crossing (Lan se da men)

Taiwan (2002) Dir. Yee Chih-yen 

Meng Kerou (Gwei Lun-mei) tries to help her best friend, shy Lin Yuezhen (Shu-Hui Liang) to get the attention of a boy, Zhang Shihao (Bo-Lin Chen), with whom she has an obsession. However the plan backfires when Lin flees from the various attempts to make contact with Shihao, leading him to think that Meng is the one interested in him but is too shy to say so. Meng however thinks she may be in love with Lin.

A simple and fairly conventional love triangle plot given a unique twist with the same sex aspect, with a neat cherry on top of having the trio be adolescents for whom the overreacting hormones and emotions are one big ball of confusion. It’s a simple twist but an effective one which makes the weight of Meng’s dilemma all that more poignant while making a sympathetic character out such a sullen and tomboyish teen. Her appearance of short hair and baggy clothes might already have outed Meng for some people while Lin’s more girlish look seems to seal the deal. But we know what they say about books and their covers.

Meng shows no real interest in either boys or girls but we learn early on that her devotion to Lin is boundless, going as far as wearing a mask of popular aspiring swimmer Shihao and dresses up in boy’s clothes for her to play the part of a substitute Shihao. In fact, Lin’s obsession with Shihao is borderline stalker territory: she collects his rubbish, steals his clothes and takes surreptitious photos of him (hence the mask) and performs an odd ritual of writing his name out in his old note book with his old pen until the ink runs dry, upon which time Shihao will fall in love with Lin.

Perhaps then Shihao had a lucky escape when he fell for Meng instead but quickly becomes smitten but her although she does everything to avoid him. For Meng, she takes on the challenge of dating Shihao in the hope that kissing a boy will stop her becoming a lesbian, even going as far as propositioning her PE teacher!

The story unfolds at a steady pace to allow the viewer to share the journey with the characters and Yee Chin-yen’s script allows the events to flow naturally and with some believability. No heavy handed didactics here; no overwrought sentimentality or forced drama to create tension, just simple sets ups of everyday life as the unsure trio try to make sense of what appears to be their first foray into love.

Yee’s direction is simple and intimate but never intrusive or dull and the absence of subplots and the pitfall distractions of self-indulgence or overlays of symbolism may explain the film’s 83 minute running time but not a minute of that is wasted. The dialogue is suitably naïve and uncomplicated for the teen cast, lead by the hugely talented Gwei Lun-mei making her debut here, who has since gone on to become one of the more exciting prospects in Asian cinema.

It is sadly unlikely that a film like Blue Gate Crossing will get much international exposure which is a shame as it needs to be seen, not just for its simplistic quality but to show how to tackle a sensitive subject without resorting to the usual OTT conventions.

This pure, human cinema at its best.