US AND THEM (后来的我们) (NETFLIX) (2018)
SYNOPSIS: Us and Them tells the love story of Lin Jianqing (actor Jing Boran) and Fang Xiaoxiao (actress Zhou Dongyu). The pair first meet on a train heading to their hometown for Chinese New Year. Ten years later, they are reunited on a plane flight home.
The directing debut of Taiwanese pop singer Rene Liu, Us and Them is a familiar tragi-romance yet it’s also a superbly well-crafted piece of drama well-worth a stream.
Spanning from 2007 to 2018, Jian Qing (Jing Boran from Monster Hunt) and Xiao Xiao (Zhou Dongyu from Soul Mate) are two strangers who became fast friends on the train that is taking them home in the county for the Lunar New Year from bustling Beijing. Jian Qing is an undergraduate who hoped to make a career out of videogames while Xiao Xiao is just pining for an ideal partner to settle down.
While Jian Qing took a liking to the bubbly Xiao Xiao, they remained in the friend zone until Jian Qing’s brief stint in jail finally brought the two together. As Xiao Xiao says in the movie, “There’s never a story that begins happily and ends happily” and our pair of lovebirds ended up going their separate ways after a clash of dreams and realities.
Us and Them indeed is a slow-boiler and definitely takes some time for the audiences to warm up to the romance of Jian Qing and Xiao Xiao. Beneath the many breaking up and meeting up episodes, the story also delves deeper into social messages such as why there are numerous hopeful young Chinese who came into the big cities to chase their dreams or what we locals termed as the 5Cs and the subsequent loneliness faced by their neglected elderly parents in the villagers.
Does possessing a big house and a dream career determine the happiness in your life? Perhaps not. In the case of Jian Qing and Xiao Xiao, the pain of losing each other in the end is far more significant than the former material achievements even though both of them knew that it’s no longer possible to get back to the past. If the painful outcome of their relationship is not enough to tear you up, Liu and her team of credited writers threw in a very poignant ending that involved a letter written by Jian Qing’s late father (played by director Tian Zhuangzhuang) to Xiao Xiao.
Jing Boran and Zhou Dongyu are amazing in their respective roles simply because the entire movie practically lies on their shoulders. It’s akin to Leon Lai and Maggie Cheung in Comrades: Almost a Love Story. Acclaimed cinematographer Mark Lee shot the drama in both black-and-white and colour though both segments look equally breath-taking and beautiful on the small screen.
Us and Them shines largely on the performances and the underlying messages. In a way, granting the movie necessary gravitas despite a predictable outcome. For such a brilliant debut, Liu is indeed a commendable director well-worth the transition.
Review by Linus Tee