Good Ol’ Review: A Sincerely Pleasant Surprise in Our Times

TYPE OF REVIEW : GOOD OL’ REVIEW
Moderate and HUGE spoilers ahead, but with fair warning before they begin in review.

Thank you Philippine Airlines! If it weren’t for you, then I wouldn’t have discovered a little Taiwanese film entitled Our Times (我的少女時代).

Actually, this film isn’t so little since it has apparently grossed over US$81 million worldwide and is the highest grossing Taiwanese film in mainland China. Regardless, I would have probably never heard of the film had I not been on a transpacific flight, let alone actually watch it.

But I’m so glad I did. Our Times was such a pleasant surprise with a story that appealed to my simplest, yet most satisfying requirements in a film or television series.

Our Times begins with our heroine, Truly Lin (Vivian Sung), as she momentarily escapes her dull office life by listening to an old Andy Lau cassette and reminiscing about simpler times when she was in high school in the 90s.

But we immediately learn Truly’s high school life wasn’t so simple after all. Aside from having to admire her crush, top student and basketball jock Ouyang (Dino Lee) from afar and disappointing her parents with her less than stellar grades, Truly receives a chain letter. One of the people she decides to send it to is Xu Taiyu (Darren Wang), the school’s notorious gang leader, after he almost gets into a scuffle with Ouyang.

Xu Taiyu eventually finds out, after he is hit by a truck, that it was Truly who sent him the letter. But that chain letter would be the beginning of an unlikely alliance between them to break up Ouyang and his secret girlfriend, Minmin (Dewi Chien), the most popular girl in school.

At first, Xu Taiyu treats Truly as his errand girl and she reluctantly goes along with his bossiness to protect her Ouyang. But soon, they both begin to let their guards down and understand each other.

And you might know what happens next.

*MODERATE SPOILERS AHEAD*

Despite using a still photo of Dino Lee’s Ouyang as the film’s representative image in the Philippine Airline magazine and on the on-demand touch screen, it was pretty obvious from their first meeting that Truly and Xu Taiyu would be our OTP couple for this story.

When the romantic endgame is obvious from the start, one would hope the film or drama series is an enjoyable ride to reach it. And thankfully Our Times is exactly that.

The film had equal helpings of nostalgia, romance, drama and teen angst. And it was all set amidst a fantasy and fairy tale-like aura that emphasized those aspects.

There’s a distinct quality in Asian romantic films or series. (The Philippines excluded.) Especially those featuring idol stars or targeted to younger audiences. Having watched dozens of Korean dramas, I could easily see the various aspects of that typical Asian romance story here in Our Times. One common thread: bad boy meets frumpy girl, bad boy softens up while frumpy girl is actually very beautiful.

But Our Times develops organically while being fast paced. And the chemistry and performances of Vivian Sung and Darren Wang greatly help make the journey of Truly and Taiyu from annoyance to love feel very sincere.

There are a series of moments or events that the film seemingly flies through. They all help you reach the point that you are rooting for Truly and Taiyu and want them to end up together. But that feeling is hammered home about one hour and 48 minutes into the two hour, 14 minute film in what may be one of the most heartbreaking, yet beautiful and most satisfying sequences I’ve seen in a film or series like this.

The roughly ten minute sequence that brings everything together is so effective, it’s enjoyably annoying. You reach this point in the film knowing where everything is heading and how everyone’s feeling. Yet actually watching this sequence play out was something else. It was simply, emotionally satisfying. So much so that it was definitely a MaGMCM. I was in tears. On the plane. All because of this surprising film.

*HUGE SPOILER AHEAD*

Following that sequence are a few final scenes back in the present day with Joe Chen returning as Truly. Her trip down memory lane has given her a new burst of energy in life. And it leads to the big meeting between Truly and the guy she’s just been thinking about. Or guys, since she finally gets to meet her idol Andy Lau as well.

Now my experience with Taiwanese entertainment is slightly limited to Meteor Garden, the original F4 and any of those mid-2000s dramas starring Ming Dao and his group 183 Club (including The Frog Prince with Joe Chen!) which aired on KTSF, the local Asian-focused station in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So while seeing Jerry Yan and (belatedly recognizing) Joe Chen at the end was nice, it didn’t really connect with me as much as it might have with other people in the audience. Sure, they’re both big stars. But if it was Barbie Hsu, then I might have fanboyed a little. That would’ve been really cute. It also didn’t help that Jerry Yan does not look like Darren Wang at all.

Thinking about the similarities between this film and many a Korean drama I’ve watched, I imagine a Korean film or even drama adaptation featuring a hugely popular former on-screen couple as the present day Truly and Taiyu. (And this story is ripe for a Korean adaptation with some popular young idols or actors.) Maybe a Lee Min Ho-Goo Hyu Sun from Boys Over Flowers, though they may be too young. More likely a more throwback-ish pair like Rain-Song Hye Kyo from Full House.

Anyway, I definitely understand the final scenes, including that pretty prolonged cameo from Andy Lau. All of that added to the overall nostalgia of the film.

*SPOILERS END*

Speaking of Korean drama, I have greatly enjoyed the recent wave of nostalgia-centric stories set in the not-so-distant past. Even Japan’s Ressha Sentai ToQger successfully used that nostalgia and warm atmosphere to great effect.

There are many reasons Our Times is creatively successful. Nostalgia is my favorite reason. There’s a warm and comforting feeling in thinking about your past, both the good and bad. Especially when today’s world can be crazy and chaotic, remembering simpler times (even if they weren’t actually so simple) can have a calming effect. And that’s certainly true with a good story you watch or read. Our Times uses that sense of nostalgia excellently to highlight the other aspects of the film.

Darren Wang and Vivian Sung have no problem carrying the film. Both their individual performances and their strong chemistry easily help make the story believable and relatable. They also carefully manage their characters and keep them from being unlikeable or hard to root for when a story like this can easily do that to both.

Wang and Sung are also both charming and endearing throughout the film, adding to that essential connection the film needs with the audience.

For Our Times, it isn’t so much where you’re going, but how you get there. And the ride is at times crazy and other times calm and serene. It’s a roller coaster of emotions. You may cheer in excitement. You might cry and be heartbroken. You most certainly will feel giddy and fall in love.

The film and story certainly do not break any new ground and several times dives into romantic drama clichés. But a deftly written screenplay, meticulous direction and a talented cast is the only way all of this can result in a great film.

And a great film Our Times is. Such an awesome pleasant surprise for me. When a random title on a transpacific flight turns out to be an enjoyable, nostalgic, romantic, sweet, funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming film. A sincerely wonderful ride where you just hop on and let go.

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