Crystal Boys

I no longer know how to phrase these coincidences happening around me, serendipity? Is there still any surprise left to accidental surprises if it’s for the nth time?  Whatever it is, I’ve been watching a drama with a TWexiled KMT veteran Dad.

I started Crystal Boys, a 2003 PTS 20 eps drama, a few weeks ago.    PTS used to be the only source of TWdramas I watch.  I’ve read the novel it’s based on by Pai Hsien-yung but somehow missing this.  It can easily be labeled an LGBT gem, which it is rightfully a seminal piece.  What gets me squarely in my guts so far though are the FatherSon and MotherSon family dynamics.

A quote from the novel fr googlebook reviewer Tze-Wan:

“When I went to bed I thought of my own father. I recalled the time he’d pinned his Order of the Precious Tripod on my lapel, so seriously, so grandly. He probably thought I looked a lot like him, too. Too bad he had to go and pin all his hopes on someone like me. […] No, I think I knew how much Father had suffered. In the months since I’d left home, my knowledge of the terrible agony he was enduring pressed down more and more heavily on my heart. That unbearable agony was probably what I was trying to hid from. […] I had to keep away from Father because I knew I couldn’t bear to see the look of anguish on his devastated face. – Crystal Boys“

Fan ChiWei’s A-Qing:

The story is set in 1970s Taipei.  Our hero is the teenager A-Qing (adult by Fan Chi-wei, spot-on awesome) living with his nuclear family in the poorer quarters of  the city.  His father is a strict army man, a wrongfully dishonored and dismissed KMT veteran who fought valiantly in the civil war, being the lone survivor of his brigade….but he was held captive as prisoner of war and mistreated all around.  He’s living off sympathy of other old comrades, with a low-paying job, barely scraping by.  Mom is much younger, clearly attractive when she’s a young woman, now trapped in a dead-end marriage where her husband is more an authoritative daddy figure, to cope, she focuses all her energy in doting on her younger son, biased against A-Qing ‘responsible’ for her near-death labor during his delivery, leaving A-Qing squarely in the middle getting no apparent physical affection, through it all he’s a gentle, warm, sensitive, caring soul who loves his family as much as he can.   I thought he’d be broken beyond repair at times, but he soldiers on.

A Qing with his younger bro, growing up.  He is his primary care taker, I’m such a horrible evil big sis by comparison.

Don’t count this as spoiler because it’s crystal clear in the opening sequence starting every ep A-Qing is gay and will be disowned, banished by his dad, beaten out of their home.  The next phase of his life happens around New Park, a notorious gay hangout spot where he finds his new make-shift family and struggles to find his own identity while being filial, combating the marginalization and trepidations being openly gay in a conservative TW in the 70s.   New Park is where we meet all the other characters, all having their own journeys,  Tony Yang‘s Zhao Ying and Joseph Chang‘s Wu Min to name a few.  tbh I’m not as rabid now after the first arc focusing on their family because the pace is a bit snailing even for a PTS masterpiece production (ie Not!idoldrama).

There is also the fact I enjoy the out of this world amazing performances of the veterans esp Dad by 柯俊雄 and Mom by Ke Shu Qin much more than all the young hot gay men combined.  They are very far from perfect parents, esp Mom, but we see how strugglingly they tried.  Whenever Dad is nostalgic, reminiscing the hard battles he’s fought, all the brave noble deeds of his youth, of his bold, briskly dry homeland ShanDong…and we r fed the visual of this defeated yet proud old stately man still with a fight or 2 in him, but life and fate keeps beating on him HARD,  I can hear my heart shatters.  The style is stark, crude and real, the farthest of spectrum in cinematography as a LoveRain, I can almost smell the dinginess and feel the always humid damp moldy walls of their cramped squalor while I take the journey in time to the outskirts of the poorer 70s Taipei.

For those interested in the meatload,  there are a number of frank, appropriate hot steamy scenes, done with nice control, nth exploitative. I very welcome them not from the usual pervie side of me, but it’s real and right for the ambiance and tone of the drama.  No cop out here.  They really kiss and make out,  It is a drama done with so much respect despite some artistic liberties for the beautifully sensitively written novel (which is translated to multiple languages), it’s been on the top of many TWdrama lists from my critic friends.  There may be J subs coz I saw a trailer in Japanese, but other than that it’s a rarer non-mass breed, so I expect eng subs nonexistent, there is never a bigger shame.  *sigh*

Try it out if you are a fangirl of any of the long list of hotties (if you haven’t already seen it).  Try it out if you are in the mood for some slice of life trip back to the gay community in 70s Taipei.  Try it out for the acting alone (there are so many familiar supporting faces, many I’ve last seen in Office Girl)

The trailer:

19 thoughts on “Crystal Boys

  1. This is one of the most depressing novels I’ve ever read in my younger days. I don’t even know there’s a drama and with a cast like this (including 柯俊雄)… Just tell me where I can watch this please.


    1. I squeeeee a lil (ok a lot with Crystal Boys) whenever anybody is reading Mr. Pai, you are guaranteed a very visceral emotional thoughtful thoughtprovoking ride.

      Hope u like it *and post ur thoughts ;)*

      1. I would love to hear your recommendations on Chinese literature. It’s something I’ve been trying to get into for a while but aside from the Great Classics that cost a fortune even on amazon in abridged version I haven’t been given any other titles. I want to read the classics too and Dream of Red Chamber is pretty high on my priority list. The list of Must Read Chinese literature over at is pretty disappointing. Btw, do you use goodreads?

        1. That brought back a lot of shame…I did have a goodreads acct a few years ago, but RL, my own laziness and my circle of friends who read profusely have been shrinking and not as active. Oh I didn’t even know what’s on the must read Chinese Lit list…*rush to check*

          I don’t really read much nowadays, I feel very awful about it, which I keep hitting myself on my head. So I’m reading most by recommendations and even more shamefully off my fangirling. My taste is mostly NOT proper classic literature. *blush* Out of the classics I rabidly love 聊齋誌異/Strange stories from a Chinese studio the most. I was a child absolutely fascinated by myths and folklore. But it really is writing so broad with so much depth and ingrained with philosophical wisdom, I don’t think I get a fraction of it.

          First off, you are very good with your Chinese comprehension right?

          I have a few authors (mostly females) I will forever be under their spell and lately I’ve been rereading their stuff, just in the mood. 三毛, 张爱玲, 李碧华 r my absolute favs. I’ve read everything they have written and almost loving every single book of theirs to an unhealthy degree. 李碧华 is still very active and she writes a daily column that I read religiously.

          And my very first girlcrush is on 鍾曉陽. Her first novel at 18, 停車暫借問, I read it close to the age she wrote it and I literally experienced my first explosive fireworks of awesome in my head. Too bad her subsequent works r not nearly as good.

          1. That was me XD I didn’t even realize I replied as anonymous. Stupid iphone app! And then of course I didn’t get a notification for the reply. No, haha I don’t speak Chinese at all! That’s why it’s such a hassle to buy Chinese literature. The full translation of Chinese Classics is pretty expensive even on Amazon.

            Yeah, I read a lot less than I used to mostly because I have so many other hobbies I don’t want to give up like cooking, Asian drama watching and now Diablo 3 is eating up all my time xD

            Anyway, if you are ever going to be guilted into coming back to goodreads this is my page XD

            1. Oh it’s you sweetie! XD I have no idea. I’ll get back to goodreads for sure…one of these days. I need to dig out my login though (I havent signed in since 2008/9…gosh…sooooo embarrassing!!!!!) Have u heard of Ha Jin? (for CN literature) quite a lot of his books have (pirated) dl everywhere. I’ve just finished his Nanjing Requiem, a devastatin read as all things concerning the massacre is.

              I just got my Diablo3 as a present fr my bro, we play as a family (I know, we’re plain weird XD) I haven’t played ANY PCgame for years. I’m a horrible addict, and will go himono-onna obsessed, so I thought I should not touch it after weaning off, but oh well, I’ll be DEEP in the rabbit hole for sure very soon.

              I’m also picking up cooking. I’m a klutzy horrible cook still but I think I made a ton of improvement considering I went fr specializing in inedibles to edibles.

              1. Oh yes I’ve heard of Ha Jin!! What’s a good introductory novel by him? Ninjing Requiem sounds devastating indeed.

                Haha, you are definitely not American since you know how to pirate books! Russian people do nothing but pirate books.

                Ohh, which class did you pick in Diablo? 🙂

                1. I rem HaJin’s Waiting very fondly but I read it last in college, it’s not really a happy read. His works almost always have historical references that r true enough that’s y it popped up in my mind it’ll be a good read for the character studies and a good feel of the history milieu if u r interested. I don’t read everything he’s written, he’s not as….effective?…as a Murakami in haunting me forever with the magic of his words.

                  I havent started Diablo3 yet, am out of town. But my fam has picked up all their classes and I think my bro is urging me to be a Demon Hunter (which I’m assuming is an Amazon in D2 speak?) I was a Sorcerer/Necro, I’m not good with all that hardcore labor and be up front/die young!

  2. Thanks for the Tudou link (and where else, of course).

    I hate to say this, but 鍾曉陽’s 停車暫借問 is kind of like one-book-wonder but that power could only come from the passion and energy propelled at the age of 18. It got a reprint last year in Taipei when I was there with additional commentary from 鍾. Made me really nostalgia because that was part of my youth too 🙂


  3. No truer words…I’m kinda relieved she isn’t more productive because I don’t want to be disappointed again and again.

    But we’ll still have 停車暫借問! I reread it not long ago and it still holds up. Of course now the love is part nostalgic, nth wrong with that!

    Very curious, what will be your book recommendations, epyc?

  4. I think HaJin’s style is very straight forward…when sometimes I want to be evoked more emotions fr words. I like him, but I find Murakami haunting me more even years later.

    Try it out!

    1. I just finished the novel today (took a 2 week break from it because it was weighing me down). Oh man, what a depressing day it is. I actually found the first 4 episodes subbed on youtube –

      and I’m glad I did, because even if I don’t get to watch the whole series, at least I get a glimpse of what it’s like…and wow, does it add to my experience. Actually hearing the harmonica music, watching the father break down (you are right! amazing acting!) and seeing A Qing palpable gentleness for his bother…guh, the pain.

      I don’t think its mentioned in the novel but does the drama ever address how precisely A Qing’s father realized his son is gay?

      1. oh HUGGGZZZZ! I got misty-eyed with the flashbacks. :~(
        I’m so glad there’s engsubs, I think the drama adapt is lovely.

        In the drama A Qing is kicked out of school because he’s caught making out with his lover by the janitor in the chemistry lab at night. The other boy has connections so he got off scotch free and is portrayed as a victim while AQing is the perpetrator of the ‘lewd assault’ on the school notice of his expulsion when he’s near graduation, ie his family’s ticket to a better/stable livelihood. That is blatant alone triggering his Veteran dad to disown him and break down. It’s quite obvious while Mom’s fav is lil bro, Dad is very fond of AQing and AQing is such a sweet, caring gentle soul all along. *sob* All the characters have their faults but these r good hard working ppl at heart just cant escape the life they’re stuck with.

        1. Damn, I’m having weird lapses in memory because I can’t remember if that’s ever mentioned in the book. But sometimes I’m weird with reading…Like I would focus on random details (like descriptions of houses and streets) but blank out during major explanations.

          Does A Qing ever go see his father in the drama? I know in the book he returns once to bring his mother’s ashes but he never actually confronts him.

          Also, I’m pretty sure Bud and A Qing don’t have dinner together when they go see her at the dancing circus, but they changed that in the drama (which was great BTW!! the discomfort of the mother asking “how is dad?”, her pretending not to know them at first, A Qing having absolutely nothing to say). Are there a lot of these kind of discrepancies in the novel and the drama?

          1. tbh the parents in the drama, a portrayed in a kinder modern light in the drama already, afterall adaptation is done in 2003 while the book is published in 1987 and both are reflective of their times. In the drama we can vividly see Dad softening up and still cares and loves A Qing in his heart even when he’s actively disowning and not seeing him, in his solitude and they did mend their relationship towards the end of the drama. The book is more ‘timely’ in reflecting the true miasma of homophobia in the 80s and esp when the story is set, it’s much more true to the reality.

            I really love the changes even though it did not stay true to the novel esp later on. I think it’s brilliant it delivers the emotional beats and a lot of the story beats even if it’s not exactly the same while it brings out attitude to our sensibilities to an extent we can relate and feel for every one of the characters.

            I’ve actually been looking for the movie adapt done in 1986 called Outcast. I’m fascinated how the story was interpreted in the 80s. We’ve come a long way as societies in marginalizing it to an non-entity in the 80s (ie A Qing’s dad) to in the very least giving homosexuality a recognition.

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