top of page

On Pride, Order, and Chaos: ‘Your Name Engraved Herein’ and Etching a Spot in the Queer Canon



Edward Chen as Chang Jia-han and Jing-hua Tseng as Wong Po Te, sitting on a rocky beach, in Your Name Engraved Herein.
Netflix

More than just celebrating the multitudes within LGBTQ+ Asian cinema, the goal for TAC’s Pride 2024 series was to introduce a sketch of the vast continent’s queer histories. Indeed, a single series could never paint a full picture, especially when considering the infinite political, religious, cultural, and sociological variables at play across time and space in this land. We are also, for the most part, outsiders from the West looking into the East, which, naturally, isn’t without its own biases and blindspots.


And yet, I would argue that we have been triumphant in bringing to mind, consideration, and conversation a collection of under-sung LGBTQ+ films. Whether forthright in their queerness or not, each film has been noteworthy for their contribution, flaws and all, to the Queer Canon. Of course, not every film we covered necessarily deserves to be canonized, but if I were to make the case for one, it would be 2020’s Your Name Engraved Herein.


Directed by Patrick Kuang-Hui Liu, and written by Yu-Ning Chu, Jie Zhan, Alcatel Wu, Your Name Engraved Herein is a Taiwanese gay romance film that follows two male students, Chang Jia-han or “A-han” (Edward Chen) and Wang Po Te or “Birdy” (Jing-hua Tseng), who come of age just as martial law ends in Taiwan in 1987. Amidst the chaos of the country establishing a new world order, which still carries with it remnants of tradition (including but not limited to homophobic attitudes and certain familial and societal pressures), the two young men fall in love. However, as with all first loves, their hearts are often bigger than even they can comprehend, resulting in a taut, emotional affair that changes them forever.


The beauty of Liu’s film lies in its balancing act between cultural specificity and universality. Liu exercises great compassion for this pivotal moment in Taiwanese history, never shying away from the growing pains of democracy and effectively mirroring that in A-han and Birdy’s own graduation into adulthood. It’s evident just how hard it was to be young, Taiwanese, and gay at a time of immense social change: old clashes with the new, and everything you were taught to be is somehow in constant contention with everything you feel and know that you are.


This is not unlike many queer folks’ experience growing up in the West, particularly in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s, a period of time in which painstaking strides were made in the uphill battle for LGBTQ+ rights. It wasn’t perfect, wasn’t without anger, sacrifice, and even death, but it laid the groundwork for the new wave of activism and advocacy we’re seeing today.


In this regard, whether you’re from the East or West, A-han and Birdy’s story strikes a resonant chord. Especially for the older gay viewer, the boys are onscreen manifestations of our inner queer child, who lacked the words to express how they feel, who couldn’t find the courage to name who they are, and who wrestled with the push of guilt and the pull of desire. Many films in LGBTQ+ cinema history have shown just how dark a place the closet can be. Your Name Engraved Herein shows us that and more, but, more importantly, it also provides a moment of healing.




Jing-hua Tseng as Wong Po Te, lying on top of Edward Chen as Chang Jia-han, in Your Name Engraved Herein.
Netflix

Towards the end of the film, we flash-forward 30 years and travel to Quebec, where a middle-aged A-han (Leon Dai) visits the grave of Father Oliver (Fabio Grangeon), who was a minister at his school and served as a sort of confidante and surrogate-father during his most confusing years. While much can be said about Father Oliver’s presence in the film as an allusion to Christianity and Western colonialism — perhaps the bedrock of homophobic attitudes in Taiwan — this trip for A-han (and, by extension, the viewer) is more liberating than anything. 


As it turns out, Father Oliver divorced himself from the Church, being a gay man himself, and found true love despite everything he was taught and told to teach. Evidently, this world A-han lives in now couldn’t be more different from the one he grew up in: he appears more at peace with himself, and, later, he even finds a gay bar to relax in. Whereas the younger version of himself might have been apprehensive about being seen in such a visibly queer space with other visibly queer people, this older version doesn’t even think twice. It’s also here that A-han, for the first time in decades, sees Birdy.


It’s a tender reunion between the two, like A-han, Birdy is calmer and gentler about his former classmate’s feelings. What’s more, the years lost between them instantly fades, the pair falling into step as if they were in school just yesterday. At one point in their conversation, they remark on how they could have never imagined this future (of being out and proud) for themselves. For the queer viewers alike, it’s as if looking into the rearview mirror — we, as a community, have a long ways to go, but, ultimately, have also come so far.


As of this writing, Your Name Engraved Herein is the highest-grossing gay film in Taiwanese cinema history, surpassing NT$100 million at the box office, and was the most popular film in Taiwan in 2020. It also follows on the heels of the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019 — in fact, Taiwan was the first Asian country to do so. As a result, Liu’s film stands as a monument in queer Asian history, cinema and otherwise. It gestures to the past, even harkening to the queer classics that have come before it, like Happy Together and Brokeback Mountain. More significantly, of course, it looks towards the future, where, as the final scene beautifully illustrates, two boys, who happen to be in love, can also be free.




Comments


bottom of page