Our Times 我的少女時代 (2015)
Release date: 14 August 2015
Director: Frankie Chen
Cast: Vivian Sung, Darren Wang, Dino Lee
Genre: Romance, comedy
Lin Zhen Xin - your average Taiwanese schoolgirl struggling through the awkward years of pubertal adolescence - secretly pines after the most popular and perfect guy in school, Ouyang Extraordinary. Meanwhile, the school’s resident gangster and notorious badboy, Hsu Taiyu, harbours a secret crush on the school’s prettiest and most popular girl, Tao Minmin. Zhen Xin and Taiyu strike up a deal and decide to work together to help each other win the hearts of their dream dates. However, as the two grow to become unlikely friends, they begin to discover what true love really means and how growing up is never how one expects it to be.
My first impression of Our Times was how much it reminded me of You Are the Apple of My Eye. A coming-of-age film - set against the backdrop of a humble Taiwanese high school - and featuring the ever-present badboy (that has since become a staple in all teenaged films) who, against all odds, falls in love with the school’s prettiest and most perfect girl. Of course, the protagonist of this film here happens to be an ordinary, if socially awkward, run-of-the-mill teenager instead of the gloriously flawless Shen Chia Yi of You Are the Apple of My Eye.
Both films feature somewhat similar storylines about young love, growing up and receiving a hard knock on the head courtesy of reality - but it’s a theme that everyone can relate to, so it’s something that works. With its flashbacks to the 90s, Our Times creates a sense of nostalgia as it allows us to reminisce on the days without Internet, without mobile phones, without computers - where life was simpler, relationships were harder and love was as evasive as ever. Of course, this non-linear timeline and retro recollections is something that You Are the Apple of My Eye coined first, but Our Times does a lovely job of recreating and paraphrasing it.
The protagonist of the story is the loveable Lin Zhen Xin - with her dorky spectacles, tousled locks and bumbling clumsiness, she’s the epitome of the awkward adolescent girl and you can’t help but secretly root for her as you watch her mature from her schoolgirl naivete and blossom into a capable, functional adult. Vivian Sung does an excellent job in creating a character that all of us can love and cheer for, in spite of what seem like insurmountable odds and her character’s apparent mediocrity.
But the star of the show, really, is Hsu Taiyu. Can I just shamelessly admit up-front that I do not think that the movie would be half as enjoyable if it hadn’t cast such a good-looking lead actor? Where does Frankie Chen even find such people!!
You know how mothers and well-meaning friends always tell you to avoid badboys at all costs, because we all know how badboys and broken hearts have such an excellent track record together? Well, Hsu Taiyu is the exact reason why you should just throw all that advice out the window. As the school’s most notorious gangster, he skips classes, engages in mini turf-wars with other gangs, flirts outrageously with girls, drinks way too much beer, doesn’t seem to give two hoots about his future or education - the list goes on and long story short, you wouldn’t want your daughter to go near Taiyu with a ten foot pole.
However, as the plot unfolds, we realise that beneath Taiyu’s hardened exterior lies a softer, more sensitive side of him that has been swept into seclusion by a terrible accident involving his best friend several years earlier. From the little gestures and thoughtful presents that he procures for Zhen Xin, it’s not difficult to figure out that beneath his bravado, Taiyi is just this big ol’ softie. I guarantee you that by the end of the movie, you would have fallen hopelessly in love with Taiyu and you will leave the cinema disgruntled and discontent with the world and its apparent lack of real-life Taiyus.
Taiyu and Zhen Xin are utterly adorable together - watching them fumble through the beginnings of their awkward friendship and wade through the ambiguous seas of young love, there’s that “Will they, won’t they?” feeling that keeps you guessing about whether or not they will FINALLY acknowledge their feelings for each other and get together already. It’s rare to care so much about a couple but these two really are characters that you grow to love over the course of the show and by the end of the movie, you’ll be smiling, laughing and crying along with them.
An honourable mention goes to Dino Lee, who plays Ouyang Extraordinary (LOL - I swear his name doesn’t sound so stupid in Chinese) - the school’s valedictorian and the most perfect, clean-cut boy you could ever imagine. For a first timer, I have to say that he does a pretty decent job of providing a worthy rival in love against Hsu Taiyu and it’s a good effort as his debut performance. I think he could live off doing toothpaste commercials for the rest of his life because he has the most brilliant smile EVER.
In spite of the excellent casting, fantastic cinematography and sharp, witty dialogue, Our Times does fall a little short of You Are the Apple of My Eye in terms of character development and its plot. While I enjoyed seeing Jerry Yan pop out of nowhere as future Hsu Taiyu, the jump in the timeline (THIRTY YEARS) is way too large for anyone to form any sort of attachment to the grown up versions of Zhen Xin and Taiyu. Over the course of the movie, we’ve grown to love the actors Vivien Sung and Darren Wang and their electric chemistry together - something that Jerry Yan and Joe Chen (who plays the older Zhen Xin) clearly lack because they only had like 3 minutes of screen time together. You Are the Apple of My Eye understood the importance of continuity and while the film did jump a few years into the future, it chose to retain its original actors and make them appear older and more mature so that we could see for ourselves, how the characters had grown up over the course of the years. And this sense of continuity is so important because it creates a sense of finality as we watch all the loose ends get wrapped up, as we see our favourite characters with the same faces (if older looking) get the endings that they deserve. Throwing in new actors to represent the old characters that I had grown to love just made me feel like I was watching an entirely different movie altogether and this really cheapened the ending of Our Times, leaving me feeling a tad bit unsatisfied.
In terms of plot, Our Times can be a little bit draggy in the sense that it focuses a little too much on the blossoming romance between Taiyu and Zhen Xin to the extent that the supporting cast drifts off into the backseat and becomes more of background noise than anything else. I’m never one to complain about romance or the excess of it, but I loved how You are The Apple of My Eye was a story about friendship as well as love; because this made it all the more relatable. Aren’t the best memories of our high school years mostly about the friendships that we form in boring, stuffy classrooms; the buddies that slogged with us through agonising exams, the classmates that we giggle with as we spy on the cutest boy in school? Because really, unlike Zhen Xin, how many of us have had the privilege of being chased by the hottest, baddest boy at school?
Nevertheless, Our Times definitely has a stronghold over You Are The Apple of My Eye in terms of its happier, simpler ending (Although in my opinion, You Are The Apple of My Eye has a better ending - while it may not be fairytale-happy, it’s realistic, mature and really makes you reflect on your youth and how you’ve grown up since then). Our Times does well in borrowing some of our favourite elements from the latter - the nostalgic feel of dusty, rudimentary classrooms, the simpleness of life in the 90s and its lack of technology, the understanding that young love - no matter the era - will always remain as frustrating and as heart-breaking as it always has been.
Our Times is one of those feel-good movies that no one (not even the older folk I think) will regret watching. It’s funny, it’s warm and it’ll pull at your heartstrings even - just don’t expect it to be realistic or logical and you won’t be disappointed. If only young love could be as simple and as rewarding as Our Times makes it out to be!
How good the movie was: 7/10
How much I enjoyed it: 9/10
Favourite scene (spoiler alert!)
At this point in the movie, it’s evident that Taiyu and Zhen Xin have begun to develop feelings for each other but neither of them has the balls to admit it. Zhen Xin continues to openly chase Ouyang and Taiyu pursues Tao Minmin with an almost resigned sort of vengeance.
In this scene, Ouyang sprains his ankle in the middle of one of his ever-famous basketball practices and hobbles over to the side bench, nursing his swollen ankle. Zhen Xin, who happens to be in the little provision shop just behind the bench, procures a popsicle stick from the store in hopes of offering it to Ouyang for him to ice his ankle. But instead of going up to him, she remains in the doorway just out of Ouyang’s sight, clutching the popsicle to her chest and hesitating to approach him.
Taiyu, who happens to be eating his favourite seasame noodles within the provision shop at the time, sees the entire sequence of events unfold and understands that Zhen Xin is way too shy to approach Ouyang on her own. He gets up, gives Zhen Xin a little push towards Ouyang and flashes her his trademark smirk, as if encouraging her to go for it.
As Zhen Xin happily offers the popsicle to Ouyang, Taiyu turns his back to her and we see that his eyes have welled up with tears and he’s trying his best not to cry as he watches the love of his life walk away from him towards another boy. :(
Someone hand me a tissue already!