You know a movie’s making a real splash when someone like me, who doesn’t have a clue (yet? I know I’m starting to pay more attention now) about TW entertainment has heard raves about this show.
From happy spazzy mentions on Twitter, to real-life enthusiastic recommendations from friends, I’d heard only good things about this movie. Considering how I don’t even generally pay all that much attention to movies except for Korean ones (and I’m not that thorough, even then), that’s no small deal.
I finally managed to watch this recently on a flight, and I must say, all those happy tweets and enthusiastic endorsements were so right. This one does get you right in the feels. <3
Just to be clear, this movie is far from perfect. It’s clumsy in spots, and you could even say that the story leans predictable.
But, there’s so much that this show gets right, that I can’t help spazzing anyway.
STUFF I LOVED
1. The Retro Awesome
There’s something about shows recreating retro worlds that gets to me and makes me feel all nostalgic and sentimental. That’s partly why I love the Answer Me series (reviews here: 1997, 1994 & 1988), and that’s partly why I enjoy this story world too.
This movie brings back all the retro awesome of the 1990s, from cassette tapes, to center-parted hair, to high-waisted loose-fitting pants.
Pretty much everywhere you look, our story world is littered with memorabilia from the 90s. It’s matter-of-fact, yet at the same time, gloriously kitschy, and I loves it.
2. The universal relatability
The thing that I love most about our protagonist Zhenxin (a name which translates directly to mean Sincere – which is so apt for her character, and which also explains why the subs translate her name as Truly), is that she is such an everygirl.
Rather than the pretty girl at school, she’s the plain one who often gets ignored and overlooked. Seriously, how many of us can relate to just how ordinary she is?
I freaking love Vivian Sung’s delivery of Zhenxin, coz she’s completely gung-ho about getting uglified for the role, and embraces Zhenxin’s gangly awkwardness without a shred of vanity. I love-love-love how realistically, wonderfully, endearingly ungainly she is. <3
I found it easy to relate to Zhenxin’s mortified, self-conscious chagrin every time something embarrassed her, and it brought back all kinds of growing-up memories of my own. Good times, all (not that I’d actually want to go back to live ’em again, heh).
The teen angst
Celebrity crushes, real-person crushes, friend zones and how to cope in them as well as how to get out of them, getting into trouble in school, growing up, and all the awkwardness and uncertainty that goes with it – all of these are brought to delightful, palpable life in the movie.
Even if you weren’t a teen in Taiwan in the 90s (like I wasn’t), these teen experiences are universal enough to feel familiar and relatable. I found it easy to engage with and relate to Zhenxin, as well as empathize with her – which effectively sucked me into her world. Really nice.
3. Darren Wang as Tsu Taiyu
Much as I love Vivian Sung as Zhenxin, I hafta say that Darren Wang capably steals the show, as male lead Tsu Taiyu.
As the school’s resident bad boy, Darren rocks the confident swagger and slightly slurry, lazy drawl. From the way he capably holds his own in fights, to how he struts the halls, every fiber of his being screams teen rebel.
Yet, as Show peels back the layers to reveal Taiyu’s emotional wounds, Darren’s delivery takes on a lovely depth that I found very appealing.
Beneath the bluster and bravado, Taiyu’s sensitivity, loyalty and vulnerability shines through beautifully, and I couldn’t help but feel for him, and root for him, and want all kinds of good things for him.
Add on Darren’s strong brows and his charming crooked grin, and I was very thoroughly mesmerized by Taiyu indeed. <3
4. The growing bond between Taiyu and Zhenxin
I find that there is something particularly satisfying about watching two very different people come to understand and care for each other. I loved the set-up, of a bewildered Zhenxin finding herself in bad boy Taiyu’s circle.
From the enforced “friendship” which had Zhenxin running all kinds of errands for Taiyu in exchange for the safety of her crush Ouyang Feifan (Dino Lee), we see this unlikely pair graduate to becoming comrades, then friends who truly care about each other.
The movie does a fantastic job teasing out their growing connection and relationship. I love that through it all, their feelings for each other – which evolve from tolerance, to loyalty, to genuine care, to romantic interest – feel consistently authentic and sincere.
Although their growing hyper-awareness around each other is all kinds of adorable and squee-worthy, at the heart of it all, it is their intense care for and loyalty towards each other that I found most profound. I love-love-loved these two together, So, SO Much. <3
5. The Feels
Even though my teenhood wasn’t exactly like Zhenxin’s, so many elements of her life felt familiar and true to life.
In some ways, watching these unfold on my screen made me feel like I was time-traveling back to my own teenhood, and feeling many of the feelings that I’d had, way back when.
Add on the very believable burgeoning feelings on both Zhenxin’s and Taiyu’s sides, and all the obstacles they faced while grappling with their conflicted teenaged hearts, and you get one very immersive watch experience indeed.
These characters and their story stole my heart good and proper. And that’s not even counting how charmed I was by Taiyu himself.
In a word, feels all over the place, y’all. Flail.
STUFF I DIDN’T LOVE
So I understand that in putting in a present-day timeline, Show was working to set a present-day context for our teenaged protagonists.
I also get that having a present-day timeline gave the production the opportunity to include more big names on its cast list, and that probably helped to increase this movie’s general presence.
In spite of all that, I personally feel that the present-day timeline didn’t add much to the story.
The movie begins in the present-day timeline, with Adult Zhenxin (Joe Chen) feeling like a loser at work as well as a loser in life, in general, and then transitions into a very long flashback, which is where our main story happens with our younger cast.
First of all, the transition between timelines felt rather clumsy to me.
Going into the flashback, the camera focuses on the cassette player, thunder and lightning happens, and the buttons on the cassette player pop up and down randomly, before the camera pans out again in our flashback timeline.
I thought this was a rather odd choice, since all that drama around the cassette player almost had me wondering if I was watching a time travel sort of movie instead.
Secondly, I never felt connected with the adult versions of our characters.
It’s largely because we spent so much of the movie bonding with the younger characters, that when the characters showed up onscreen played by completely different people, it felt dissonant and foreign to me.
I couldn’t, for the life of me, buy that Joe Chen and Jerry Yan were the same characters that I’d grown to love, and that affected my ability to appreciate the ending, in particular.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
OMG people. SO MUCH CHEESE. 😛
From Andy Lau appearing at a coffee kiosk and inviting Zhenxin to his concert, to Taiyu turning out to be the contact that Andy had instructed Zhenxin to call, to Andy’s recorded speech outside the concert venue about his friend (Taiyu) making efforts to make the concert happen, in order to fulfill a promise to his first love, to Taiyu having christened the concert 真心愛你 (which can be translated to mean Zhenxin, love you), it’s all cheesy to the extreme.
I confess that I cringed through it all, the first time I watched the ending. On subsequent viewings, I’ve cringed less, but that doesn’t change my opinion that this ending could’ve been stronger.
Partly, I didn’t think that it was all that necessary to have Andy show up, really.
Mostly, though, I would’ve much preferred if Present Day Zhenxin and Taiyu had been played by Vivian Sung and Darren Wang.
I know it requires both actors to play much older, but to me, that’s not something that wardrobe and makeup can’t fix. Just take a look at them here:
With a bit more adjustment, I’d totally buy them as Present Day Zhenxin and Taiyu, wouldn’t you? This way, I would’ve felt as connected to their characters at the end of the movie, as I did during the 90s timeline.
Failing that, I would’ve liked to see Present Day Zhenxin and Taiyu look at each other, but see Teenaged Zhenxin and Taiyu instead, if you know what I mean.
Then we could’ve seen Teenaged Zhenxin and Taiyu deliver those reunion lines, before we watched them walk away from the camera, towards the concert venue. That would’ve definitely helped.
Essentially, in order to appreciate the movie’s ending, cheese and all, I needed to feel more connected to the characters, and the best way to achieve that, would’ve been to see Teenaged Zhenxin and Taiyu in the present day, somehow.
I know we got a bit of that via intercutting flashbacks, but it just wasn’t the same, for me.
Unfortunately, as it stood, Show’s treatment of the ending left me feeling rather deflated and disconnected.
Flaws notwithstanding, Our Times stands out to me as a wonderfully engaging watch that grabs the heart, brings back memories, and ignites (all of) the feels.
Sure, there are things that I wish Show would’ve done differently, but it’s ok. We’ll always have the memories. And in my heart, I’ll always have these two, happy and content, together. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Warm, universally feel-good and full of heart. Definitely recommend.
FINAL GRADE: A-