Film Review: ‘Your Name Engraved Herein’ 《刻在你心底的名字》Is a Tender Queer Drama Held Back by a Plodding Pace
In 1987, as martial law ends in Taiwan, Jia-han and Birdy fall in love amid family pressure, homophobia and social stigma.
Director: Liu Kuang-Hui
Cast: Edward Chen, Tseng Chin-hua, Fabio Grangeon, Mimi Shao
Runtime: 118 minutes
Being a semi-autobiographical account of director Liu Kuang-Hui’s first love, Your Name Engraved Herein 《刻在你心底的名字》feels immensely tender and personal. It’s a romance that has moved a nation, standing tall as a multi-award winner at this year’s Golden Horse Awards and claiming the accolade of being the highest-grossing LGBT film in Taiwan’s history.
While Your Name Engraved Herein’s cinematography and performances are impressive, how challenging the film is has to be noted. It follows a structure similar to popular Taiwanese high school romances, tapping on the same vein of bittersweet nostalgia and missed opportunities. However, most of the emotional high points here are subtler in comparison, making for a film that requires an extra bit of attention and patience to fully savour its moments.
Your Name Engraved Herein follows the young romance between Catholic high school students Jia-Han (Edward Chen) and Birdy (Tseng Chin-Hua). Beginning shortly after martial law was lifted in Taiwan, the film depicts a society still reeling from its authoritarian and fiercely conservative legacy. Previously single-gender schools have opened up to accommodate both genres but still prohibit dating between students, going as far as segregating them. Students actively chastise and physically abuse the queer amongst them.
The tremendously stressful environment defines the film’s drama. Affectionate moments between the two are shared through wanting glances and tender flirtations disguised as schoolboy roughhousing. The forbidden nature of their affair brings up doubts about how they feel about each other and about themselves. Jia-Han, reserved and ever-broiling in angst, bears the brunt of this confusion. Although Birdy is far more freewheeling, even he struggles to understand his emotions, going as far as to avoid the questions altogether by having a heterosexual relationship with schoolmate Ban-Ban (Mimi Shao).
The drama occasionally bubbles into outright declarations of love between the pair mainly told through intimate scenes and heated arguments. However, more often than not, the script meanders within the same emotional beats, particularly with the characters’ internal confusion that felt like constant rethreads. Instead of moving the story along, the film felt obsessed with pointing out the forbidden nature of their relationship, especially with the inculcation of religious themes that came off as overkill.
When the story does move along, its emotional payoffs are poignant and memorable. How Your Name Engraved Herein actively points out the messiness and potential destructiveness in any relationship add weight and depth to its story, especially in its last third.
This leads to devastating scenes including one featuring the film’s crowd-pleasing, chart-topping theme song of the same name. The quiet grandeur that comes with every first romance is beautifully brought to life through gorgeous cinematography. Soaring trumpets are peppered throughout, punctuating the loneliness and dizzying emotions of its characters brought out equally well by its two lead performances.
Your Name Engraved Herein is a solid queer drama. While it suffers from a slow pace, the film still wrapped up in a manner that felt earned and nonetheless affecting. The film expertly mirrors the emotional turbulence of its characters to chart the painful yet necessary growth Taiwan itself went through to emerge as Asia’s first to legalise same-sex marriage.
Your Name Engraved Herein is now streaming on Netflix: