This is a movie I have had bubbling under on my to-watch list for a few months. Maybe I was put off a little by some fairly lukewarm reviews, and the general feeling it is a female-focussed “You Are the Apple of My Eye”. But I was given a little nudge to go check it out, a couple of hours became free (actually my internet went down, so I couldn’t continue my HIMYM binge watch on Netflix), so I settled down to see what is was like and form my own opinions.
In “Our Times” we meet Lin Chen-hsin (Joe Chen), stuck in an office job and a dead-end relationship. After a particularly bad day, she listens to an old Andy Lau song (her idol) and her mind drifts back to her high-school days, and we reminisce together. Back then Lin (now played by Vivian Sung) was a nerdy and shy girl, with an unrequited crush on the popular boy at school, Ouyang Fei-fan (Dino Li). One day she finds a chain letter in her desk, and feeling obligated to send on the suggested curse, she chooses to send it to Hsu Tai-yu (Darren Wang) – basically the rabble rouser and gang leader of the school. He gets into a minor car accident whilst reading the letter, and when he finds out Chen-hsin sent it, he basically blackmails her into being his errand-girl. Tai-yi has his own crush on the popular Tao Min-min (Dewi Chien), who happens to be in a secret relationship with Fei-fan. Therefore Chen-hsin and Tai-yu form an alliance to help break up the romance, and hopefully get the partner they desire. Of course, what actually happens is that over time the pair actually become true friends and form feelings for each other. Chen-hsin starts to blossom as a young woman, and Tai-yu starts to outgrow his rebellious phase. However, events separate the pair, which leads us back to the present day.
Well, I have to say, whilst “Our Times” doesn’t quite hit the high quality of “Apple”, it does have a lot going for it. The young cast are quite adorable, with Vivian Sung nailing her role – how often do movies ask us to believe that some stunningly beautiful young woman was once a glasses wearing nerd with bad hair? It helps that Sung is probably more ‘girl-next-door’ than super-model, but she is quite fantastic – an awkward ugly duckling – and plays the role with just the right amount of comic humour. Darren Wang is wonderfully charismatic, with a disarming grin, and whilst maybe you struggle to actually see him as a rebellious gang leader because of his clear and obvious charm, there is at least a reason for this dichotomy.
The attention to detail is quite wonderful too. Apparently the cast and crew spent hours on auction sites, attempting to gather together the 1990’s period details. However accurate the end result, it feels authentic. Not only that, but the film has a little historical and political subtext, using the high school as an example of how 90’s Taiwan was coming out of a period of dictatorship into a new era of greater personal freedom. It is a nice touch, and not overplayed, only coming to the fore in a single scene.
However, it does have problems. Chen-hsin’s exposure of the traumatic event that changed Tai-yu seems a little unearned, and frankly a bit odd that it wasn’t public knowledge. The plot-line about the secret relationship between Fai-fan and Min-min seems to fade away far too quickly. And the film really repeats itself a lot during the bulk of the main romance. Already somewhat hefty at 134 minutes, there are portions of the film that seem to add nothing to what we already know, and the now mandatory “here are some scenes again done from a different perspective” not only feels a little hackneyed, but to be honest a little unnecessary. The final modern day sequence is maybe a little too sweet to be comfortable, but Andy Lau’s cameo is somewhat fun.
So I guess I am going to give this one a Recommended. It is funny and sweet, well-acted and well-intentioned. The attention to detail is marvelous, and it does attempt to do a little more than be a normal will-they won’t-they style teen romance. Vivian Sung and Darren Wang are excellent. But it is overlong, and feels maybe just too familiar to last in the memory too long.