It’s been some time since I watched a Taiwanese film and watching Our Times reminded me of how charming their films could be. Think Au Revoir Taipei and You Are the Apple of My Eye, which is often used as comparison for Our Times.
Our Times is the story of an “ordinary girl” Lin Chen-hsin (Lin Truly) and her final year in high school.
Back then the most important decision we have to make everyday was
what to eat for breakfast.
The biggest lie we have ever told was on the day of exam, we’d say:
‘I didn’t prepare for it’.
The most luxurious thing to do was go shopping in the bookstore.
Back then, that was our department store.
The biggest dream we had
was to meet our idols one day.
Chen-hsin is a fan of Andy Lau. (“When I grow up, I will go to Taipei to watch your concert.”) Her friends worship Kaneshiro Takeshi and Aaron Kwok.
The film is set in the 1990s when fangirling was an entirely different ballgame. This was the time before social media. No Twitter so we can be updated of our idols’ news, no Facebook where we can brag about our fangirl life and no Instagram, where we can gawk at photos of our oppars.
Fangirling then seemed like a long-distance love affair with someone whose voice we only hear in cassette tapes (no CDs yet) and whose posters adorn our rooms (these days, posters are sophisticated idol merchandise that are licensed and not something you can tear off from magazines).
But between then and now and technology aside, the theme of a fangirl’s life remains the same: idols sell dreams, we buy those dreams.
Just like any 18-year-old girl, Chen-hsin also has crushes. And I don’t mean her idol Andy Lau but a real boy, the school leader and a basketball player, Ouyang Fei-fan.
One day, she finds a chain letter (now it’s chain emails) tucked in her desk, not knowing that this was going to change her life forever.
But being the nice, ordinary girl that she is, Chen-hsin didn’t want to send the chain letter to just about anyone and curse their life. She has to make sure that there’s a reason why they deserve to receive this cursed chain letter and so she sets about figuring out the five people she wants to send them to.
First, there’s their terror of a teacher. Then there’s the campus beauty, Tao Minmin, all because she “happens” to be a neighbor and it is “convenient” to drop the letter in the mailbox, nevermind that Ouyang seems to like this girl. Third is the school’s notorious gangleader, Hsu Taiyu, the last number in the last section of the batch.
Before Chen-shin could pick out the fourth and fifth lucky recipients, Taiyu receives the letter and while he’s reading it, gets hit by a car. Chen-hsin is terrified of course thinking that the curse of the letter is true. His loyal lackeys set out to find the culprit and accidentally spot the Andy Lau stickers on Chen-hsin’s chair, the same one that was stuck on the back of the envelope that Taiyu received.
They “arrest” Chen-hsin and bring the hapless girl to their boss, who proceeds to terrorize her and declare “let’s be friends”. But as Chen-hsin puts it, being friends with Taiyu meant doing his homework and making notes for him, buying his breakfast (separate the sesame oil from the noodles), picking up his trash, and enduring his bullying ways.
This bully-slave relationship continues until they plot to nip the budding relationship of Ouyang and Minmin in the bud. In the process, as we know it, they start to develop feelings for each other, but continue to pretend that they still like Ouyang and Minmin.
The naive Chen-hsin also gives Taiyu tips on how to read women:
If she says nothing’s wrong, something is wrong.
If she says she’s okay, she’s not okay.
If she says ‘I’m fat’, she wants you to say she’s not.
As the love square develops, Chen-hsin discovers something about Taiyu and Ouyang’s past ties and it brings the gang leader under a new light. She tries to encourage Taiyu to go back to how he was before but alas, the establishment, also known as the school, has a certain stereotype against people like him.
And because they were young then, a series of misunderstandings were unresolved and left a permanent wedge in their lives.
Back then, there was no Facebook; 12,000 kilometers meant parting for good.
Well, not really.
You were always wondering what the future will be like.
In the future, you won’t really become someone amazing.
You still make mistakes.
You still get confused.
You still regret for not having more ice or not experiencing more relationships.
And being too kind to people you dislike and cherishing people you like more.
But the way you are is good.
You’re still very brave.
You still scream for your idol.
As the movie starts with the older Chen-hsin, it also loops back to the present time– 18 years and a few days later. She quits her job and breaks up with her boyfriend. And she still can’t get a ticket to Andy Lau’s concert in Taipei.
The present day Chen-hsin and Taiyu are played by Joe Chen and Jerry Yan. Maybe it’s just me but I do feel that Joe Chen and Jerry were miscast, especially Jerry. Joe Chen lacks the inherent quirkiness of Vivian Sung, who played the younger Lin Chen-hsin. On the other hand, Jerry…well he tried. Even assuming the quirks that Darren Wang used in the character but his mere presence (he looked like Dao Ming Si and not Hsu Taiyu) and the hair distracted from his efforts (seriously, when will he update his hair? It’s so 15 years ago.) And a very glaring difference–Jerry has a dimple; unless Taiyu got a dimple after his surgery in the US that is. Perhaps Vivian Hsu or even Cindy Wang would have been a better choice for the older version of the female lead, or yes, Michelle Chen but being the heroine of You Are the Apple of My Eye so that’s out of the question. As for Taiyu, Mark Chao would have been more suitable? But that’s just me.
Thankfully, Joe Chen and Jerry do not appear in even 10% of the film. Vivian Sung and Darren Wang–but most especially Darren–rule the film. No wonder Darren is the hottest pancake in Taiwan since Kai Ko. But comparisons between the two (starred and rose to fame in an Angie Cai-produced films and were also her talents) should stop there, otherwise, it won’t be beneficial especially for Darren.
Another quibble is the lack of Andy Lau songs with only Forget Love Potion featured in the entire film. And that’s considering that Chen-hsin is his super fan and this is an important thread in the story so I expected more attention to this. If it were my story, it would have had lots of Arashi and CNBLUE songs as soundtrack. But alas, I’m not the writer. Kidding aside, I do wonder why. Perhaps it was intentional so as not to shift the focus to the enduring superstar? And also a copyright issue on the use of his songs? But at least he gets to have a cameo in the ending.
Our Times will resonate with anyone because of its familiar story arcs: first love, high school and chasing after our idols. Also known as any fangirl’s story. It could be your or my story, only with a different soundtrack.
Next on my watch list is Cafe. Waiting. Love., which also stars Vivian Sung.
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