Yesteryou, Yesterme, Yesterday

Reviewed by YTSL

This nostalgia-tinged effort has been described by Dave of the Peter Grimes website (and the HKMDB) as “The Wonder Years set in Hong Kong in the early 80’s”.  Producer Peter Chan, quite a few of whose offerings constitute reworkings of Hollywood works (cf. the even more sentimental look back at the past that’s “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father”), has admitted that this film was inspired by -- but, he stresses, not ripped off from -- one of his favorite TV series:  That whose focus is a boy named Kevin Arnold, the adolescent trials and tribulations he experiences, and the discoveries about himself and other humans that he makes along the way (See Miles Wood’s “Cine East”, 1998:12).

Probably because I actually have never completely viewed a whole episode of the long-running American situation-comedy, the sense I (nonetheless) get is that certain of YESTERYOU, YESTERME, YESTERDAY’s content as well as stylistic touches are “only in Hong Kong” ones.  For example, I can’t imagine that “The Wonder Years” would have Durex as one of its sponsors the way that was the case with this 1993 Samson Chiu directorial effort.  Neither does it seem all that likely that a relatively gentle -- as opposed to outright satirical -- “coming of age” tale from anywhere else in the world would have as its protagonist a 14 year old boy whose personal name -- appropriately enough, considering his proclivities -- apparently translates into English as “Teats Gazer”...!

At the same time, there were many indications re YESTERYOU, YESTERME, YESTERDAY not being your garden-variety kind of Hong Kong film.  For one thing, it’s not as though Hong Kong movies in which veteran actors (like Eric Tsang and Petrina Fung Bobo, who play the parents of the offering’s main character) and starlets like Ann Bridgewater and Almen Wong end up playing second fiddle to teenage -- if that -- actors and actresses are a dime a dozen.  Ditto re there being many characters who are teachers by profession, let alone ones who are nicknamed “The Killer” (Barry Wong) and “Sensitive Plant” (or, more probably, Shrinking Violet) but also have “real” names that could get translated into such as -- I am NOT making this up! -- Mother’s Private Parts!!  Something else that becomes very apparent right from the beginning of the work, as its subtitles hurtle by on the screen, is that it’s an immensely “talky” show (that comes complete with a narrative voice-over as the film’s framing device).
Then there was the matter of YESTERYOU, YESTERME, YESTERDAY opening:  With a quirky as well as quick run-through of events which led to the coming into the world of Yeung Shing Bo (who is played for the bulk of the movie by John Tang); followed by a short introduction to the lad himself that culminates in a scene in which he gets abruptly awoken from his first wet dream by his mother.  Still, if such as the British book entitled “The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole, Age 13¾” as well as “The Wonder Years” are to believed though, much of what gets depicted thereafter in this Lee Chi Ngai scripted work is but the universal, natural, normal and logical extension of a momentous -- for an adolescent male -- event as well as that which the sexually awakened male will later look back upon as being defining plus maturing experiences during a particularly interesting phase of his life.
The first viewing of a previously, solely platonic, good female friend in a different light (as a real looker who is entirely capable of stealing the hearts of boys).  One boy’s first crush, on someone way older than him (who comes in the attractive form of Lui Sau Ling) as well as another whom is of the same age (played by cute Ellen Lo).  The first kiss they share.  His first smoke and taste of alcohol.  The first school dance party that he feels a need to bring a date to and wants to make a romantic event out of.  The first experiences of being attacked by jealousy and afflicted by love sickness.  All of these moments in Bo’s young life are covered in YESTERYOU, YESTERME, YESTERDAY.  However, they are not the sections of the film that I found most interesting, compelling or moving.  Perhaps this was intentional.
Even if it was not, it seemed to me that the most lovingly depicted as well as entirely loving relationships in YESTERYOU, YESTERME, YESTERDAY were those that Bo had with his father and mother.  Even the sometimes troubled relationship that Bo had with his 11 year old sister appeared to be stronger than any that he had with any non-biological relatives, bar for one with another boy named Teddy (who, in turn, was shown to care the most for his aged grandmother).  As such, even though the most memorable imagery of this movie is that which stems from the mind of a boy in whose body hormones clearly are raging, the dominant message of this offering appears to be that family bonds -- not the objects of one’s lust, however nice some of them may well be -- is what really and predominantly matters.

My rating for this film:  6.

Reviewed by Brian

Coming of age films about males tend to come in two shapes – raunchy and prurient or sensitive and tender. Both have their pluses and minuses I suppose. The first type is sort of what we wish our adolescence had been like, but in reality most of ours fall into the second category in which those years were seemingly a series of painful stings to the ego and wishful thinking rarely acted upon. For the most part I try and stay away from either. My own adolescence is so far in the past that even my memories of it have a thick layer of dust covering them – but while fast forwarding through to get pictures for YTSL’s review I saw a few scenes that brought back hazy flashes of recognition – oh – and I also saw a scene where Almen Wong does a striptease in class. For whichever reason I decided to watch it – I mean how many of us (men) didn’t have similar fantasies about some of our female teachers! Now I remember Miss Babcock in seventh grade . . . but that’s for another time.

This first in a series of three films in which Yeung Shing Bo (Over the Rainbow, Under the Skirts (1994) and Yesterday You, Yesterday Me (1997)) was played by John Tang and they all fall very definitely into the sensitive and tender category. Though it all feels much to neat and tidy by the end for real life, there are certainly many moments that felt very true – the complete confusion of suddenly finding yourself interested in girls and feeling that you had landed on another planet, the insecurity of having no knowledge or experience with sex and feeling like everyone knew some secret that you didn’t, the pain of unrequited “love” but always hoping that maybe tomorrow she would notice that you were alive!, the embarrassment that only parents can unknowingly bring on you. It is perhaps a slightly syrupy trip into a stage in one’s life that feels very innocent – especially looking backwards now – thinking about the things that at the time seemed so important, so life and death and how silly they were – but with the world falling into potential chaos and with life and death feeling much too close, I have to admit I quite enjoyed this sweet and hopeful trip through the musty memories of my mind.

My rating for this film: 7.0