Recounting the adolescent beginnings of a precocious love affair, the opening of Giddens Ko's semi-autobiographical debut You Are the Apple of My Eye is a tide pool of tonal confusion. From out of high school's brackish, malodorous micro-environment comes a legion of awkward human curios, most of them made nauseous by dissonant emotions and kinetic camerawork for which they didn't ask. Told from a smarmy male student's point of view, the movie's first act is a playbook of gross, geeky, and aggressive indulgence; the world slows down to shove a hot dog glistening with condiments into a bespectacled classmate's moon-shaped face, but it speeds up to help along two boys loudly masturbating into their desks while another kid times their efforts with a stopwatch.
The protagonist, Ko Ching-teng (Ko Chen-tung), breaks with tradition by being just as weird as the angry, sex-crazed weirdos to whom his narration condescends. He flippantly mocks the unpredictability of his peers' libidos ("He's always getting a boner. That's why we call him 'boner.") but gets busted for the aforementioned act of public self-gratification. (ÅgWhat's jerking off?Åh the female students ask one another while a teacher reprimands the nascent perverts.) Ko Ching-teng is then punitively relocated to a seat in front of doe-eyed over-achiever Shen Chia-yi (Michelle Chen), and the two gradually engage in an academic competition with sexual undercurrents that linger through graduation to college.
As Ko Ching-teng and Shen Chia-yi mature, the movie sheds its experimental edge, and the even-keeled final stretch fully succumbs to rom-com formula. But bildungsromans so rarely focus on the Freudian stage limned here; namely, the point at which sexual desire transitions from an itch one scratches via self-exploration to a far more intimidating, other-directed impulse with social and ethical implications. This specificity pushes You Are the Apple of My Eye over several glaring humps of broadness—including an episode where a group of persecuted students persevere with Spartacus-like solidarity—and emboldens moments of genuine human contact. Ko Ching-teng first attracts Shen Chia-yi's attention by jabbing her with pencils and chopsticks. When he finally grazes her back with his bare hands towards the film's middle, we feel his arrogance dissipating—along with, sadly, the movie's impish uniqueness.