The much-hyped Taiwanese Boys Love series About Youth was released globally on 29 August 2022 on GagaOOlala and China’s YouTube counterpart BiliBili. Amidst the noise from the freshly-cast actors, issues like cross-dressing, bullying, parental pressure, and societal divide were hinted at. Is the series too ambitious for its own good?

Under the direction of Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Mi Chieh, About Youth features 4 young boys with unique sets of backgrounds, personal agendas, and challenges:

  • Li Zhen Hao plays Ye Guang, a popular student and campus idol with a huge following. Underneath his cool exterior is a lonely boy hungry for parental love. He encounters the half-orphaned but ambitious boy band leader Xu Qi Zhang (Jyun Shen). Sparks immediately flew, the boys are already close enough to stay together and ride on a motorbike, after some funny but unfortunate event inside a convenience store;
  • Xu Shui Ting plays Ray, Ye Guang’s sidekick and a cross-dresser who falls desperately in love with a jerk. Andy Huang plays Ah Jian, destined to rescue Ray from his own personal mess.

Taiwan, quite aware of the advances made by Thai filmmakers in Boys Love production, decided to be more competitive by casting young and rookie actors. Following the Thai model, school-themed BL is the target. This is a clear departure from previous Taiwanese BL series that are set in the corporate world.

Ambitious Plans

But the team of dir. Mi Chieh has some ambitious plans for the series. Certain adult themes were hinted at during the first 2 episodes:

Academic pressure comes from Ye Guan’s parents. With a stern father figure and an ambitious, jet-setting Mom, Ye Guan is always left alone to fend for himself. Showered with material stuff, the boy remains lonely and desperate. How will this issue be tackled by the series? Will it go overboard and like previous BL shows do over-the-top acting just to call attention?

About Youth’s official Instagram account – featuring scenes of Ray (Xu Shui Ting)

Cross-dressing Ray, played with such finesse by Xu Shui Ting, also exhibits a personal defense mechanism to handle rejection and heartbreak. How is Ah Jian, the guy from the restaurant, handle this?

Certain gay movies have tackled sensitive issues involving homosexuals. The more recent ones like Your Name Engraved Herein (famous gay activist shown in protest) and How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) features Kitty, a Thai transgender, coming to mind. Will About Youth go this far? Or a flimsy mention be enough?

The self-anointed rival-enemy of Ye Guang (Li Zhen Hao) looks highly strung, together with his gang!

School bullying also enters the picture, with Ye Guang’s self-anointed rival enemy trying to sabotage his moves.

And then we have the BL romance. From the teasers, kissing scenes seem to be a major attraction for our first BL couple. Can Li Zhen Hao (playing Ye Guang) have enough energy to tackle parental pressure, romantic feelings, and school bullies?

About Youth: Can You handle this?

One of dir. Mi Chieh’s most successful series is HIStory: Crossing the Line. It’s also a school-based BL romance featuring Fandy Fan. It was a sure-fire hit, with a whirlwind romance between the leads a major attraction. It features one of the most intense kissing scenes in recent BL history. Its success comes from the fact that it centers on a singular theme of coming of age in a Boy’s Love setting, with the sport of volleyball as the background. Simple yet effective, right dir. Mi Chieh?

While we are still in the very early part of About Youth, I tend to be on the optimistic side. Setting aside the raw acting of the leads, I am looking forward to how these serious themes are handled by the show. I’m especially intrigued by Ray’s cross-dressing antics – who is Ray? How will the series show his true colors, if at all?

You can watch the first 2 episodes here.