Mabel loves Liam who loves Aaron who loves Mabel.
After a brief present-day interlude that serves as a framing device, the film “Girlfriend Boyfriend” opens with the trio as student protesters in Taiwan in 1985. As times change, so does the dynamic between the three of them: After Mabel (Lun Mei Gwei) has a disastrous affair with the now-married Aaron (Rhydian Vaughan), it is Liam (Joseph Chang) who helps her pick up the pieces to continue moving forward.
In looking to set a triangulated friendship/romance between a woman and two men against changes in Taiwanese society as the country moved out from under decades of martial law, writer and director Ya-che Yang presumably had a similar sweep of such films as “Jules and Jim” and “The Dreamers” in mind.
Although the evolving relationship of the central trio is seemingly meant as some kind of commentary on the ongoing evolution of Taiwanese society, the message feels muddled. Yang relies far too much on mood, atmosphere and swoony music montages, with some sizable chunks of storytelling passing by in moments that would seem better used as a cornball karaoke background video or lifestyle advertisement.
In wanting to make a film that is both about sweeping societal change and small-scale personal relationships, Yang has missed on both counts.
“Girlfriend Boyfriend.” No MPAA rating; in Mandarin and Taiwanese, with Chinese and English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. At the AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; AMC Puente Hills 20, Rowland Heights; AMC Santa Anita 16, Arcadia.