In 2021, it is somewhat surprising that As You Like It has not yet had the same mainstream rom-com update as The Taming of the Shrew (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU) and Twelfth Night (SHE’S THE MAN). With any luck, Hung-i Chen and Muni Wei’s Taiwanese adaptation – which evokes the 90s films’ adaptive creativity with hilariously incongruous references to Shakespeare’s places and names – will fill this recent gap. Replacing a coup with a runaway CEO and a wrestling match with a half-animation, half-live action punch up, the classic comedy of romance, mistaken identities, and gender-bending takes off with style.
Expressing love is a tangible process in AS WE LIKE IT. The painstaking creation of love letters and happiness, from drying the paper to beautifully scripting each word and plastering the city with images of a beloved, is captured in rapturous detail. Transforming the Forest of Arden into a Wi-Fi-free district adds to this world’s purposeful romance, where love and human connection must be active and intentional. This imaginative touch takes on an additional bittersweet quality after a year of pandemic-enforced separation, but its candy-coloured escapism is a tonic in these times.
The original comedy’s playful gender politics get a glorious 21st-Century makeover. While Rosalind (Puff Kuo) still undergoes disguise as a boy and ends up wooing her boxing champion as a man, the fact that Orlando (Aggie Hsieh) is played by a woman playing a man is an amusing nod to Shakespeare’s original practice of men playing all roles. Additionally, Rosalind’s best friend and wing-woman Celia (Camille Chalons) get a more assertive makeover, driving forward the mystery of Rosalind’s vanished father and seducing Oliver (Joelle Lu – also a woman playing a man) in the same moment.
Rosalind/Roosevelt’s awkward attempts to prove her masculine credentials are played for laughs, and Kuo’s performance is steeped in self-awareness of her ridiculous (and self-created) situation. But the humour is not in the act of cross-dressing but in the impossibility of presenting a wholly invulnerable self to the world – an act that Rosalind and Orlando are doomed to fail in as their feelings grow stronger. In dreamlike montages, dramatic reveals, and quiet moments of community, AS WE LIKE IT proves few things defy logic quite like love does – and brings the gay subtext into the spotlight.