High on charm but extremely low on content, “Blue Gate Crossing” is a half-hour short stretched to feature length. A vignette of high school love and sexual confusion, this sophomore feature by Taiwan’s Yee Chih-yen scrapes by on the performances of its leads and good-looking production values, but doesn’t have the substance to make much of an impression beyond the festival circuit.
Yee’s first film, “Lonely Hearts Club” (1995), was a typical slice of navel-gazing ’90s Taiwanese cinema in which a woman became interested in a younger man but found out he was gay. “Blue Gate” simply switches the genders and lowers the ages to 17: A high school swimmer becomes interested in a fellow student, only to learn that she thinks she’s a lesbian.
Introspective, serious-looking Meng Ke-rou (newcomer Guey Lun-mei) and pretty, likable Lin Yueh-chen (Liang Shu-hui) are best friends. The latter has the teenage hots for Chang Shih-hao (Chen Bo-lin) but is too shy to approach him, so Ke-rou plays messenger. With the two of them thrown together, Shih-hao ends up asking Ke-rou out — an invitation she accepts, but with the warning, “I’m a lot of trouble.”
Shih-hao doesn’t know the half of it. Initially keen to be kissed (in scenes which display a nice line in straight-faced comedy), Ke-rou ends up playing hard to get. Then — in a long nighttime sequence in a deserted school gym — she finally admits she’s secretly in love with her best friend, Yueh-chen, and therefore probably is a lesbian. The reason she was anxious to be kissed by Shih-hao was to discover whether this was true or not; now that she thinks it is, she realizes it’s probably wrong, too.
It all sounds terribly over-precious, and sometimes is; but the performances by the two leads are so good that they largely disguise the thinness of the script and its lack of anything new. Unfortunately, the pacing of the movie — though considerably brisker than Yee’s “Lonely Hearts Club” — is so mellow that the audience is about two reels ahead of the protagonists most of the time.
Ke-rou’s girlish homosexual confession comes at the 50-minute point in the movie, which leaves another half-hour during which Shih-hao has to accept he’s barking up the wrong tree and the two girls have some, uh, issues to work out in their friendship. It’s all done in a semi-glossy style with an arty edge, plus lots of scenes of bicycling around hot, summertime Taipei – to ho-hum results overall.
Guey, actually a high school student of the same age as her character, is quite a discovery as Ke-rou, mixing iciness and warmth in a disarming cocktail. Chen, with some TV experience, is equally good as Shih-hao, not overplaying his boyish allure. Among the small number of supporting roles, Joanna Chou is very solid as Ke-rou’s widowed mom, who’s ignorant of her daughter’s sexual confusion but certainly understands her loneliness.
All tech credits are well done, from Chien Hsiang’s richly colored lensing to Chris Hou’s spare use of classical piano music. Film is the third in the Arc Light/Pyramide series of six moderately budgeted features from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, which began with Wang Xiaoshuai’s “Beijing Bicycle” and Lin Cheng-sheng’s “Betelnut Beauty,” preemed last year. For the record, the latter director made a much more substantial movie on a similar theme, “Murmur of Youth,” back in 1997.