Director: Guo Jingming
Cast: Yang Mi, Kuo Tsai Chieh, Kuo Bea Ting, Sie Yi Lin, Kai Ko, Rhydian Vaughan
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Released By: Encore Films
Opening Day: 15 August 2013
Synopsis: The story occurs in this speedy developing Shanghai city, and describes the lives of these four main female roles, Lix Xiao, Nan Xian, Gu Li and Tang Wan Ru. These four girls have been classmates since young and developed a very deep friendship even they all have various life-value and personal goal. They have spent their school time together in university and started to face various challenges in peaceful life, including the challenges from part-time job and enormous living pressure in life. In this peaceful camp life, there are diverse dilemma for them to make decisions which involves love, friendship, working value and carrier life. Meanwhile, some sweet and bitter relationship has just flourished between them and Gu-Yuan, Gong-Ming, Jian-Xi, and Chong-Guan… While facing a gigantic pressure in life, and love relationship, these four young ladies have encountered huge changes in friendship and love, even family relationship. Facing all these radical changes, how could they still hold on their attitude and value toward life and love? How could they still create colorful pages in their young life?
No doubt the box-office success of this movie in China is giving it legs to cross into international territory, but we suspect that ‘Tiny Times’ - directed and adapted by novelist Guo Jingming from his series of bestselling books - is unlikely to find an appreciative audience overseas. A portrayal of the lifestyles of the new-rich who have rode on the waves of China’s recent economic boom, it is as shallow and superficial as the lives of the people it aims to portray - and that’s a fact not lost on even some of its Mainland Chinese audiences, who have criticised it for glamourising materialism.
To be sure, that isn’t a problem in itself - after all, Hollywood has also been guilty of dishing out such trivial pleasures, the most well-known examples being ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Gossip Girl’. But what makes this ‘SATC’ wannabe - that should otherwise be known as ‘Sexless in Shanghai City’ - frustrating is how daft each and every one of its four lead characters are, whether in terms of love or career or simply being responsible friends. Yes, it’s appalling how they take turns to screw up, jump to conclusions or demonstrate their ego, which makes it quite impossible for us to rally around them and their supposed bond of bosom friendship.
But before we launch into that tirade, let’s be clear on one thing. We’ve no issues about this movie being a vehicle of wish-fulfilment for the masses. Indeed, Guo’s tale of Lin Xiao (Mini Yang), Lily (Amber Kuo), Nan Xiang (Bea Hayden) and Tang Wanru’s (Hsieh Yi-lin) search for love and success in cosmopolitan Shanghai probably just about epitomises the dream of every young Chinese male and female adult. Ditto for their lifestyle of high-rise apartments, designer bags, cutting-edge fashion and luxury bags - judge them all you want, but those symbols of status are just what every high-achiever in China is after.
So we’re not here to quibble over the little lapses in logic, even though some audiences are less likely to be as kind. We therefore won’t question how Lin Xiao for instance, despite her clumsy and careless ways, manages to secure a coveted position as assistant to fashion bible M.E. Magazine’s editor-in-chief Gong Ming (Rhydian Vaughan). Neither will we question how Lily manages to be a Chief Financial Officer despite being fresh out of college. Perhaps even more significantly, we won’t even start asking how in the first place the four girls became such inseparable friends, despite the fact that there is little we see which in fact binds them together.
And yet even with such concessions, what transpires is just plain dreadful. Why Gong Ming or his other more senior assistant Kitty would put up with Lin Xiao’s mistakes time and time again escapes us, particularly since the former is said to be exacting and the latter unsympathetic to under-performing employees; but what really takes the cake is why Lin Xiao would accept Gong Ming’s gift of an engagement ring that he says he doesn’t need anymore, which then leads to a huge misunderstanding with her boyfriend Jian Xi (Li Ruimin).
Lily gets the even shorter end of the stick, confronted with a rough patch in her once rock-solid relationship with Gu Yuan (Kai Ko) after the latter’s mother disapproves of her and seeks to marry him off to an even wealthier family. This isn’t even a rich-poor divide; it’s that of the rich-and-richer, so ludicrous and poorly defined that one feels no empathy or anything whatsoever for what becomes of the two of them. And would you believe it, their rift begins when Jian Xi calls Gu Yuan, hears a female picking up the call, and proceeds to tell Lin Xiao and Nan Xiang of Gu’s suspected infidelity - so much for being a responsible friend.
Fortunately for Nan Xiang and Wanru, they are spared much of the inanity by simply being afterthoughts. Aside from the contrived finale, Nan Xiang’s struggling fashion designer hardly gets much screen time other than an ill-conceived but thankfully barely-elaborated subplot involving a former boyfriend Xi Cheng (Jo Jiang). Ditto for stocky badminton player Wanru, whose crush on another well-chiselled player Wei Hai (Calvin Tu) gets all about five minutes of play. Nonetheless, it also means that for most of the time, we have to put up with idiotic characters whom we just want to slap some common sense into.
That’s doubly disappointing if you consider how Guo’s writing experience should in fact make him a good storyteller; instead, we are not only made to endure a first-time director’s poor sense of narrative continuity, but also his half-baked tale of immature characters and their childish whims. And no, the fact that he had cast eye candies Mini Yang, Amber Kuo and Taiwan-born Eurasian model Bea Hayden doesn’t quite make up for it - even though there’s no denying that Yang and Kuo display plenty of sass in their respective roles.
As you can probably tell, this is a movie designed specifically to go easy on the eye. Besides the ladies, the guys have also been chosen from some of the most eligible young actors from the Mainland and Taiwan. It’s not about the fact that it’s fluffy - we do enjoy our guilty pleasures - but it’s about how plain stupid the characters are, trapped in their own little well of incompetence, pettiness and ignorance. Unless you have specifically come to ogle, this is one vacuous romantic fantasy that is as empty as it is tiny and ultimately inconsequential.
(Only as good as the ‘eye candy’ of its young cast, this ‘Sex and the City’ wannabe trades four savvy American women for four daft Chinese young adults and ends up being shallow, superficial and terribly frustrating)
Review by Gabriel Chong