The latest film from writer-director Arvin Chen is a thought-provoking charmer called Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? His tale of an introverted optometrist in Taiwan asks such questions as “Can life (and romance) stay as happy as depicted in a wedding portrait?” and “when does self-sacrifice become martyrdom to another person’s happiness?”
The movie explores themes of love and loyalty vs. staying true to yourself, as the optometrist, named Weichung, begins to question his marriage to his wife, Feng.
At his sister’s engagement reception, Weichung runs into Stephen, an old friend and the ceremony’s photographer, who is living like a single gay man half his age. Stephen, too, married out of social expectation, but his wife is a lesbian (“We’re into role-reversal,” he says, laughing, at one point).
Later, Stephen invites Weichung to get together and catch up with all their old friends from his decidedly “gayer” pre-married days. These include Ming, Simon and Ray-Ray, who call themselves “the sisters.” (“Don’t worry — we won’t blow your cover,” Stephen tells Weichung with a wink.) This encounter and Stephen’s teasing about Weichung’s supposedly straight lifestyle awaken long-repressed feelings — particularly after Weichung meets Thomas, an attractive young flight attendant who walks into his shop one day. Instantly, their attraction is mutual, which sets our hero off on a quest for true romance and fulfilling desire.
Played by Richie Jen, Weichung is an uncomplicated, thoroughly identifiable man, seemingly with both feet on the ground. His sister Mandy (Kimi Hsia), however, is another story.
About to get married to the eternally patient, frequently put-upon “San-San,” she lives her confused life dominated by soap-opera-inspired fantasies of the perfect (if melodrama-tinged) relationship with the perfect soap-hunk lover. Mind you, San-San’s not bad, boring, or homely. Let’s just say he isn’t exactly an “alpha male.” Mandy’s starry-eyed attitude about love doesn’t help his cause.
Both siblings are at a turning point in their relationships, but Weichung faces his truth head-on, while Mandy avoids hers (with plenty of help from TV and ramen noodles).
In due course, Feng comes to suspect something isn’t right with her husband and even consults a fortune teller about her concerns. She finally confronts Weichung, and he tells her the truth: “I thought I could change,” he confesses, “but what I didn’t realize is I was lying to myself.”
This scene is emotionally genuine, well-played and poignant. During filming, it brought the crew to tears.
“For me, the triumph in this movie is the acting,” Chen said, “especially Mavis Fan’s performance as the wife, Feng — even as the director, I was moved by the character she created.”
According to the young filmmaker, the idea for this, his second feature film, came to him almost by chance after a conversation he had with a gay friend. Though almost 40, this man exclusively dated men in their 20s. When Chen asked why, he was told that in Asia, there were few “out” men available in his friend’s own age group — most being married to women, with families.
“For Asia, Taiwan is relatively more tolerant towards homosexuality,” Chen said, “and I couldn’t really understand why some men would choose to live a façade and forgo their own happiness for the sake of others’ approval, so I started to think how I could develop this premise into a story.”
He found that it wasn’t easy. “Making it … funny but also hopefully a bit more resonant by the end was my greatest challenge here, but I’m always inspired by the process. …how an idea turns into something that’s created by over 100 people, and how that ‘something’ can be seen by so many people,” he said, smiling.
To many Eastern cultures, the perception of being gay still boils down to cross-dressing or overly flamboyant caricatures. Chen introduces a refreshing authenticity to those he’s depicting here.
“Though I’m not gay myself, I did grow up around a few gay friends in the San Francisco Bay area,” explains Chen, who grew up in the United States. “So of course I find Taiwan and Asia to be a bit more conservative in general when it comes to LGBT rights and the perception in the culture — primarily with the older generation, who are less educated about being gay and are often in denial when it comes to their gay children. But overall, I think homosexuality is pretty open and accepted among young people in metropolitan Taipei, where the movie is set.”
Viewers in the West are likely to undergo a bit of culture shock, particularly now that the idea of marrying purely out of social expectation seems somewhat surreal. Yet, in one hilarious sequence, director Chen turns this traditional view around as “the sisters” actually aid the dumped San-San in his attempts to win Mandy back. (“Be a man about it!” Stephen tells his apprehensive new pal.)
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? transcends matters of sexuality and culture. It cuts to the heart of relationships and the inevitable insecurities that each one brings.
The film is in Mandarin with English subtitles; the one English-speaking sequence involves Feng celebrating her new promotion at a karaoke bar and singing the title song, which perfectly hits upon the basic dilemma of any relationship. No matter how much you think you’ve got things figured out, “perhaps” as Feng tells Mandy, “in life, thinking things through clearly doesn’t guarantee they will work out.”
Will Weichung find happiness with Thomas — and can, in the end, life truly turn out to be as happy as that matrimonial snapshot? Ultimately that’s for audience members to resolve for themselves.
“One of the things that has been the most inspiring to me is that I’ve seen the movie with both gay and straight audiences, in Asia and the West,” Chen said, “and the places where people laugh or feel bad for the characters are usually the same.”
In October, the film was given the first-ever LGBT Award at the Chicago International Film Festival, adding to the accolades it has received at other festivals. Distributed by Film Movement, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? makes its way into wider markets, including Kansas City, throughout January. For more info, go to www.filmmovement.com .