The elder Taiwan population, mostly conservative despite their radical departure from a homeland they loved, must face off with their disaffected children, more influenced by the cultures of Europe and the US than by China. In some respects, Yang’s presentation of the 1990s Taipei is a bit like West Side Story with various gangs less based on nationality than on the economic backgrounds of their parents. In this case the Little Park Boys, led by Honey—the children mostly of civil servants—fight with the 217s, the children of military officers, the latter of which is especially fearful to the civil servants because of the existence of the secret police, who, often for seemingly no reason sweep down on government workers and others to interrogate them about their past relationships in China with Communist members and others who did not leave their homeland. You can almost hear the crackles in this broken society between past, present, and future. And if the elders bow their heads in troubled obedience to the new order, the schoolchildren, especially the boys, literally leap out the doors of their classroom, almost as if ready to jump into dance like the Jets (clearly, in this case, the Little Park Boys) and the Sharks (the 217s).
Moreover, this is not a film about the urban jungle or the brutal streets, but a carefully “framed” work along with a careful expression of intense personal relationships that are defined by Yang within his framing. Perhaps never since the great director Ernst Lubitsch has any filmmaker so perceived how to encompass his characters and scenes within doorways and windows. Here they represent both the possibilities of escape and a kind of vertiginous inability to transcend the spaces in which they exist.