As We Like It − Walking Freely on the Top of the Young Mountain
28 January 2021
For each of the features in competition, IFFR asked a critic, writer, academic or programmer to write a short reflection in a personal capacity. The resulting series of ‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Timmy Chen shines a light on As We Like It.
Chen Hung-i and Muni Wei’s As We Like It (2021), an all-female adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, is a Taiwanese queer film celebrating women and (same-sex) love. The creative pair has been known for their playful style and pungent satire on gender and politics. Although As We Like It is Muni Wei’s feature film directorial debut, she founded Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group in 1995 and has been an influential theatre director. The name of her seminal avant-garde theatre company was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay, A Room of One’s Own. Woolf imagined that William Shakespeare had had a gifted sister, Judith Shakespeare, whose exclusion from education, page (as a writer), and stage (as an actress) would have led her to suicide. The film’s female co-director, the lesbian director of photography Yu Jing-ping, an almost all-female cast, and Waa Wei as the singer of the theme song can thus be seen as an homage to Woolf, to the actresses not allowed on Shakespearean stage, and to the female artists working in today’s male-dominated creative industries.
A more immediate context is Taiwan’s legalisation of same-sex marriage on 17 May 2019 as Asia’s first. The male taxi driver in the opening scene talks about having been married to his husband for five years and considering adoption, which anchors the film sometime in 2024 and somewhere between social reality and utopian fantasy (with regard to the adoption rights of same-sex couples). The film imagines Taipei’s Ximending district as the Forest of Arden. In reality, Ximending is young and vibrant, both traditional and trendy, with the Longshan Temple from 1738 for the religious and the Red House built in 1908 as the heart of the LGBTQ community.
The central conceit of the film is that the utopian space of Ximending is an Internet-free zone. As soon as Rosalind (Puff Kuo) and Celia (Camille Chalons) enter the Forest of Arden and acquire freedom from the Internet, the background music plays 'Young Mountain’ 青春嶺, a 1936 Taiwanese-language song composed by Su Tong, with lyrics by Chen Daru, during Japanese colonialism. The song’s lyrics are not revealed until the group wedding ceremony towards the end of the film. They celebrate free love in an oppressive society, especially with the line “Walking freely on the top of the Young Mountain” 青春嶺頂自由行. Here the ‘Young Mountain’ does not so much refer to the touristy Yangming Mountain as projects a youthful and cheerful mood which permeates the whole film.
This youthful mood paradoxically advocates slowness instead of speed, the old school instead of newness − a lifestyle of leisure and slow living, verging on anti-developmentalism. Therefore, Orlando (Aggie Hsieh) opposes the urban renewal plan and joins a slow delivery service, delivering letters printed from movable types. The search for the missing Duke involves leisure activities such as visiting a bookshop, playing billiards, foot massage, ear cleaning, and drinking herbal tea. As We Like It reclaims the lost art of slow living without the Internet, which leads to freedom, love, and peace.
Timmy Chen is a film and music scholar with interests in Chinese-language cinema, film music, song-and-dance film, and sound design and studies.
‘Appreciations’ aims to encourage viewers − and filmmakers − at a time when there is no physical festival. Discover more short reflections on the features in competition.