Apple of his eye

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am

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For someone revered for penning dark and edgy novels, Giddens Ko Ching-teng's filmmaking debut might seem too conventional. You Are the Apple of My Eye is a pleasant, light-hearted comedy that chronicles the rites of passage experienced by a group of teenagers in a Taiwanese high school, with the central plotline being a budding relationship between the class clown and the star student - a story even Ko admits is a bit hackneyed.

The reason why Ko - better known by his pen name, Jiu Ba Dao ('Nine Knives' in Mandarin) - used this premise to drive his first film is simple: it's his own story. In the movie, he relives his days as a misbehaving teenager who, when not fooling around with the other boys in class, finds himself falling in - and then out - of love with a classmate. The film is based on the 33-year-old's semi-autobiographical novel from 2005, which follows the writer (played in the film by Ko Chen-tung) and Chen Chia-yi (Michelle Chen Yan-xi) as they glide through their sunny, teenage years.

'The message is quite cliched - it's about treasuring the people around you. I've lost someone important and regret it deeply, which is why I made this movie,' Ko says. 'If you've lost someone important, you'll be touched ... and feel comforted watching this movie. In a positive way, it reminds you not to let go of the people who are important to you.'

A big hit in Taiwan - it has generated NT$370 million (HK$93.4 million) after its release on August 19 - You Are the Apple of My Eye steers clear of self-pitying nostalgia, Ko says. He claims it outflanks even the source novel in the way it entertains, inspires and reveals his reflections on life. 'Being young is about being senseless,' he says.

'It's about doing meaningless stuff most of the time - or being cheated by your parents into doing meaningless stuff that they might find worthwhile. It's a happy blur of a time - except that, afterwards, you're not sure what you've done exactly. But it's a precious period, as what you go through and lose during that part of your life makes you who you are today.

'On the surface, the film is about youth, but the underlying theme is about how one grows ... If a person has never encountered failure before, he will not have time to stop and reflect on things - and he will miss some really appealing views of how the world is.'

The real-life individual on whom Ko based the character of Chen - a well-behaved, straight-A student - 'made me realise what love is', he says. 'The process of loving her softened me. She loved studying; for the sake of having a common hobby with her, I could only study hard as well. We always discussed academic topics and that was how we became close to each other,' he recalls.

Ko says he had always wanted to conjure a novel out of that youthful romance. And it was only when his first love got married - to someone else - that he finally pushed himself to put the story down on paper. 'Our story didn't have an ending until 2005, when she got married. I went to her wedding and I was so touched ... which was why I started writing this book, thinking that the two of us are now walking our own distinct paths in life. She's happily married, which gives the story a very nice footnote,' he says.

'The whole process was very sweet - it's actually what all the love stories in all of my novels are based on,' he adds. 'Any reader who has read my love stories will find they all arose from the story between us.'

A graduate in management science from the National Chiao Tung University in the city of Hsinchu, Ko discovered his talent for writing after he finished a novel as part of his university-entry essay. He is a prolific writer works in genres ranging from horror to science fiction and romance. Since establishing himself as a best-selling author with his first novel Cityfear 1 in 2000, he has published about 60 books - many of which have been adapted into television dramas, movies, comics and games.

He has also worked as a movie scriptwriter and an advertising copywriter.

Ko's dalliance with filmmaking began in 2008, when a film company invited him and three other directors (Vincent Fang Wen-shan, Chen Yi-xian and Mickey Huang Zi-jiao) to each contribute a segment to what would eventually become the 2009 omnibus Love.

Armed with 'a sense of vanity' after that experience, Ko began planning his first full-length feature that year - and what came to mind immediately was You Are the Apple of My Eye.

'I know all the details of all the events - that's my youth, my memories - and everything is very familiar to me. That's how I knew how to make it into a film, and to make a nice one out of it.'

Ko says the major difference between writing and directing is that the former is an individual process, while the latter requires a lot of talking to many people from different walks of life - an absorption of information and influences that, Ko says, makes the movie better than the novel. 'It's the fruit of the labour of 100 people, excelling in their talents so as to extend the talent of only one person.'

You Are the Apple of My Eye opens on Oct 20