First Time – Rereview

00206315Title: First Time
Starring: Angelababy (Yang Ying), Mark Chao (Zhao Youting)
Genre: Realistic, Contemporary
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 1.5

When I first reviewed this movie a year and a half ago, it was in the immediate aftermath of reading Everything, Everything. And given the issues I have with that book, I’m really hard pressed to think of why I gave 《第一次》such a high rating and a gushy review. Surely––surely––I was aware of what shit representation it was for people with terminal illnesses, right? Honestly, I think I might have just been viewing the film through the eyes of a girl who a) really likes Angelababy b) really likes Mark Chao and c) really likes the film.

And to be fair to 19 year old me, there were aspects of the film that are still genuinely enjoyable. The set design and costuming are lovely––I visited Xiamen last summer with my friend and it really was a beautiful city. I enjoyed its subversion of audience expectation––in many ways, Song Shiqiao is both the Tragic Sick Girl(TM) and the Maniac Pixie Dream Girl(TM), but in this narrative, where Shiqiao’s overprotective mother and her boyfriend Gong Ting try to craft and sell her a narrative, she is the one with the agency, making her own choices. She is the one with the last word, the final say.

The part I can no longer sign off on is that ending––in a media landscape that isn’t oversaturated with stories about chronically ill people and disabled people dying specifically because they are not abled, Song Shiqiao is just a girl who wants the physical freedom of dancing, who wants agency over her body badly enough she is willing to do anything to have a single moment in the spotlight. As it is, though, it’s just one more story about a chronically ill girl who dies, because apparently dying while trying to be abled is better than staying alive as a someone who is chronically ill? Okay.

《杉杉来吃》Boss & Me

e69d89e69d89e69da5e59083Title: 《杉杉来吃》
Actors: Zhao Liying, Zhang HanGenre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0/5.0

Rare is the trope I hate more than the “in love with the boss” trope. I make no secret of the fact that I despise emotionally stale male protagonists who can’t do any of their own emotional labour. I hate authors who idealise extreme power differences in a relationship. And most of all, I abhor the Chinese trope of the 霸道总裁. Somehow, though, every winter since its release, I’ve found time to rewatch Boss & Me.

It’s not for the acting, that’s for sure. Zhao Liying is incredibly talented, and her bubbly and sweet Shanshan comes across as genuine and kind, with a heart as big as her appetite. But Zhang Han leaves me cold, like he always does in every drama that isn’t titled Queen of SOP, mostly because he doesn’t know how to move his face, and he has the perfect excuse not to in human iceberg Feng Teng. (No microexpressions? Blank expression? Zero personality? I mean, okay.)

It’s not the story, either, because it’s a fairly standard one. After Shanshan donates blood to Feng Teng’s younger sister Feng Yue during a difficult pregnancy, she comes to his attention, despite not being outstanding at work or particularly competent outside of it. When she begins to eat on the balcony outside his office in order to escape office rumours, he becomes enamored with her optimism and her sweetness, and, not really knowing how to interact with her, orders her to come up and eat lunch with him daily, which of course, only begins to fan the flames of the gossip.

Why! O why! Do I like it so much?

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Girls Love (2016)

cefc1e178a82b901991ddf50748da9773912ef25Title: 错了性别不错爱
Starring: 何佳颖, 米勒
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 2.0 out of 5.0

warnings for casual homophobia, sexual harassment, public outing

So it’s not the best English title in the world, but then, English is also not the only language in the world, and I’m quite willing to forgive an indie web film about queer girls falling in love just about anything but killing their protagonists.

This film, shot after and in partial response to the popular BL webseries Heroin 《上瘾》, became quite popular among young Chinese people. It follows the story of Yu Xiaorou (on the left), who finds herself developing feelings for Mi’le (right), her college roommate, and is forced to process those feelings. Meanwhile, she juggles dealing with casual homophobia from her classmates and an obnoxious boy who just won’t take no for an answer.

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Front Cover (2015)

front_cover_ver2Title: Front Cover
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic, Dramedy
Starring: Jake Choi, James Chen
Rating: ★★★☆☆ | 3.0/5.0

I might actually need to watch this film a second time to process it/my feelings/everything.

Ryan Fu (Jake Choi) is a self identified “potato queen” and an up-and-coming stylist in the New York fashion scene. His life consists mainly of work and parties, and all he wants is to establish himself––to have something to be proud of by the time he turns thirty. So when he gets taken off a cover job and put on styling Chinese actor Qi Xiaoning (James Chen), he’s not happy. Especially not when he finds out that Ning has explicitly requested an ethnic Chinese stylist on the assumption that they will better understand each other, because Ryan has never been invested in identifying as Chinese, has actively divorced himself from Chinese culture, and is flattered when people mistake him for something other than Chinese. But Ning brings another problem––Ryan is out and proud, but Ning is so deep in the closet he’s practically buried. But as they spend more time together, they may find that they have more in common than they thought. And they may find that they have the courage to embrace their identities––don’t they?

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The Agency Series (Y.S. Lee)

Title: The Agency
Author: YS Lee
Genre: Action, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ || 2.0 stars

In some ways, it’s deeply unfair to rate these books as a series. In others, it’s the only way to rate it at all. As individual books, they were mostly competent, interesting reads. I’m generally a huge fan of revisionist Victorian novels (particularly if there is a mystery element) that feature intrepid girls (particularly if they are intrepid girls of colour), but I found that the more I read the books, the more frustrated and impatient I became with them.

The Agency follows Mary Quinn, formerly Mary Lang, an Irish-Chinese girl who was saved from the noose to be given a second chance at life. She takes this second chance to turn herself into a member of the Agency, a covert all-female private detective agency that utilises stereotypes about women to go undercover as maids, companions, and governesses––all in the name of the case. In each of the four books, Mary is sent on a different case––uncovering the truth behind the smuggling of Hindu artifacts into England while posing as the paid companion of a spoiled young lady, solving the death of a bricklayer at the building site of the Houses of Parliament and the clock tower in the guise of a twelve year old boy, even enjoying a stint in Buckingham Palace as a maid chasing down a string of petty thefts in the palace. This setup allows for an almost infinite amount of permutations––Lee could certainly have extended the series indefinitely if she so chose, so it’s something of a minor miracle that she chose to complete it at four. This is also part of why I found myself enjoying the novels less and less.

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Quick Take

Real quick, scrolling down my Kindle Cloud:

 

The Girl Who Played Go (4/5)

warning for sexual violence/threats of rape, murder, wartime atrocities

One of my favourite wartime novels, a must read for me, if only out of nostalgia. I had some minor issues with this novel, particularly about the ending, for one, which struck me as overly grimdark; sexual violence was indeed a large component of the Japanese invasion of China, and that shouldn’t be ignored, but I’m honestly not sure what purpose the ending was supposed to have. In particular this idea that death is preferable to rape, which is a common trope in this genre of literature, makes me worried about what this may say to survivors of rape. Overall, the lyrical writing, the plot structure (set up like a game of go, each piece moving slowly towards one another until they are ultimately so entangled it is impossible to separate them), and the dreamlike anonymity of the characters saves this from being just another exploitative war novel about the Second Sino-Japanese War.

There are also some concerns I hold about consent, and the power dynamics at play in the idea of falling in love with one’s coloniser (particularly one that is currently engaged in a violent invasion of your home), but the relationship between the main characters never progresses far enough for that to be an issue that is really deeply investigated.

Spiritwalker Trilogy (5/5)

At some point, this one is up for a reread. Kate Elliot’s wonderful worldbuilding, her accessible writing, and her complex characters (& the complex relationships they are allowed to have) make this far more than another high-concept alt-universe fantasy novel set in historically-inaccurate whitebread Europe. The novel is convincingly diverse and the (quite frankly) wonderful romance and the sense of the scope of swashbuckling adventure made this a truly unforgettable read.

Though the pace was much slower than what I’m used to (I read mostly YA), it never lost my interest, and Elliot does a beautiful job making the extraordinary seem ordinary, which may not seem like so desirable a quality at first, but the world feels more inhabited because of it.

Girl Overboard (2/5)

I mean, it says something both about me and the book that when I was scrolling through my Kindle Cloud I sort of groaned, because I always mean to review this novel but never get around to it a) because I’ve forgotten most of the finer details of the plot b) because my overall impression of the book isn’t that great and c) the combination of those two and the lackluster writing really makes me reluctant to write anything in-depth about it. So, like, draw your own conclusions about if I recommend this novel?

Okay, no, that’s unfair. The book was passable. It was mediocre. It’s a fun read on a snowy day; it doesn’t do anything particularly new, the characters aren’t likeable or unlikeable, and it hits the expected beats, but if you’re looking for something to get over a book slump or just for the sake of having something fun to read, this is the book. One of the things that I liked most about this novel was the presence of an interracial couple where neither of them were white (RIP Scott x Kira), but aside from that, it wasn’t anything super fresh that I think every single person on the planet should read (for that, I recommend: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho).