You Are the Apple of My Eye film review: poor Japanese remake of Taiwanese teen romance blockbuster

  • Robbed of the original’s vibrant, youthful voice, and saddled with an inexperienced pop-idol lead actress, film is a shadow of Giddens Ko’s 2011 original
  • First film understood what it meant to be young, awkward and horny in a way too rarely seen in Asian cinema. The remake serves up unremarkable pap
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 7:41pm

2/5 stars

In 2011, Taiwanese author Giddens Ko Ching-teng turned his hand to filmmaking – scripting and directing an adaptation of his semi-autobiographical novel You Are the Apple of My Eye. A huge success across Asia, including Hong Kong, Ko’s story of five high-school friends all in love with the same girl now receives a Japanese remake.

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Tragically, yet somewhat inevitably, director Yasuo Hasegawa’s film hews to the conventions of Japanese romances, and the result is underwhelming. He clearly didn’t realise that what set the Taiwanese blockbuster apart was its author’s informed observations and vibrant, youthful voice.

Ko’s wit and keen understanding of the younger generation was hugely evident in his film’s unbridled and frequently hilarious depiction of hormone-addled teens. It was a breath of fresh air in a genre overpopulated by chaste, stilted characters who behave nothing like real teenagers. That film also sparked a wave of films that nostalgically recalled high school in the 1990s.

In Hasegawa’s remake, aspiring writer Kosuke (Yuki Yamada) recalls his adolescence 10 years earlier, when he was the class clown in a quiet provincial town. Even at 28, Yamada makes a believable and likeable high-schooler, an awkward goof who could do well in class and with the girls if he’d just get out of his own way.

Like his classmates, Kosuke has a crush on buttoned-down star student Mana (Asuka Saito), but is too shy to declare his love. All they share in common is the quirky Utako (Honoka Matsumoto), Mana’s best friend, who Kasuke has known since childhood. But when Mana is paired with Kosuke in a last-ditch effort to improve his grades, they both realise there may be more to each other than either first perceived.

It’s a pity that Saito struggles to bring any depth to Mana. Appearing in her first starring role, the member of Japanese all-girl pop idol group Nogizaka46 is dull as ditchwater; this makes it hard for the viewer to understand why Kosuke and his collection of one-note buddies would fawn over her. That Matsumoto is effortlessly charming as the friend-zoned Utako only brings Saito’s wooden performance into sharper relief.

The original You Are the Apple of My Eye was a runaway success because it understood what it meant to be young, awkward and horny in a way too rarely seen in Asian cinema. This new version takes a huge step backwards, replacing all of the nuance of Ko’s groundbreaking comedy with the same unremarkable pap we’ve endured a thousand times before.

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