Beyond Self-Censorship, Binarism and Wifi
By Ren Scateni
As We Like It is an engrossing utopia depicting a world refreshingly unthreatened by any kind of queer-inflected phobia. Despite being indebted to the wave of optimism following Taiwan’s historical legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2019, this liberal landscape is a fantasy nonetheless.
In the film’s reimagined Forest of Arden – dubbed as “ your neighbourhood friendly place” – people dress, talk, and love however they best feel reflects their personal expression. There is no judgement, no self-imposed censorship, and – wait for it – no wifi. By stepping inside the district, designed to reflect and upgrade Taipei’s hip Ximending neighbourhood, we leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind, and embrace the offbeat splendour of a life lived offline.
Controlled everyday life
Based on Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy As You Like It, Chen Hung-i and Muni Wei’s adaptation subverts the strict gender politics in force during the playwright’s time when women were banned from the stage and all the roles were played by men. Muni Wei, a theatre director and producer debuting her first feature, has long been invested in liberating female creativity from the oppression of patriarchy. In 1995, she founded the Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group, an all-female theatre group reminiscent of Japan’s Takarazuka Revue. As expected, in As We Like It, for once, it’s men’s turn to step off stage (although, later on in the film a group of policemen is quite tellingly played by men) leaving the female cast to play even further with gender roles and identities. Controlled everyday life.
The plot might be familiar to many and, despite a few twists and turns, As We Like It offers quite the faithful adaptation. In the near future, Celia (Camille Chalons) and Rosalind (Puff Kuo) have just reached the Forest of Arden when their smartphones suddenly turn into useless lumps of chips and plastic. Rosalind is looking for her father, who disappeared seven years before, but is soon put off track by Orlando (Aggie Hsieh), a scruffy young man who falls for her at first sight and spams the district with love poems hardly half a day later. Rosalind seems to be flattered by Orlando’s declaration of love but there’s something about his reckless boldness that rubs her the wrong way. On a whim, she cuts her hair, buys new clothes and she’s not Rosalind anymore. Instead, Roosevelt enters the love game. Will he eventually swoon over Orlando? Or will Orlando fall prey to Roosevelt’s expert play instead?
As We Like It is as much about queer love as it’s about the politics of urbanisation. “In Heaven there’s no internet” and “no wifi, better life” are only a couple of the street posters preaching an analogue life. Pitched against ruthless gentrification, “The Grain House” is the film’s green sanctuary hidden in the heart of the most buzzing neighbourhood in Taipei. Inside, nature dictates life’s pace as several greenhouses occupy the space, and calmness fills the air. Fittingly, it’s here that Orlando and Roosevelt’s quest to find Rosalind’s father commences and somehow ends amidst odorous tea leaves and a primordial connection to the earth.
Gender power dynamics remain at the heart of As We Like It. Although it’s easy to forget that all the lead male roles are played by women (this actually underlines how solid the actors’ performances are), Rosalind/Roosevelt’s character is pivotal. By crossing gender identities with fluid comfort, Rosalind eventually emerges victorious over society’s binarism, a reading that the film encourages in more than one scene. Hopefully, this may pave the way for wider recognition of non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals within Taiwanese society too.
Caught in a whirlwind of multisensory stimuli, As We Like It integrates animation within its narrative to create playful effects that emphasise the film’s carefree tone. Its colourful extravaganza and musical interludes, which loosely recall Tsai Ming-liang’s surrealist musical pieces in The Wayward Cloud, give the film an additional comedic spin. Although at times fast-paced to the point of confusion, which is at odds with the film’s call for a recalibrated slowness in life, As We Like It remains unconventionally easy-going and fun. The perfect antidote to our gloomy, tech-controlled everyday life.
Written for the Young Film Critics 2021
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