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.

Two Fathers 《两个爸爸》

Two Fathers 《两个爸爸》Title: 《两个爸爸》 Two Fathers
Actors: Lele, Yang Yizhan, Lin Youwei, Lai Yayan (Megan Lai), Liang Jing
Genre: Comedy, Family, Contemporary
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ | 2.0 of 5.0

[spoilers, but they’re pretty much forgone conclusions]

So like, not to be a hipster, but I was into this drama back when it was popular (in 2013). But then I completely forgot how much I loved it, or that it even existed, until I saw one of my friends posting on Snapchat about it, and she told me that it was on Netflix. And I can’t read and do my homework at the same time, right, but I can watch Netflix and do my homework. Which is exactly what I did.

Two Fathers follows the story of aspiring lawyer Tang Xiangxi (Yang Yizhan) and student horticulturalist Wen Zhenhua (Lin Youwei)––college friends who find out that a girl they both slept with, Su Wenwen, has had a baby––one of theirs, but she doesn’t know whose–and then promptly skipped town because she was unable to give up her dreams, leaving the child in their care. Fast forward eight years, and Xiangxi has his own firm, Zhenhua has a flower shop, and they’ve made their own unique family with their daughter, Tang Wendi. The series takes place between the winter break and through the summer vacation of Wendi’s first grade, when the two fathers meet her new teacher, Fang Jingzhu (Lai Yayan), which sets in motion a series of events that allows three families––the Tang/Wens, the Fangs, and the Wus––to find their own happiness.

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The Pirates (2014)

The Priates (2014)Title: The Pirates
Starring: Son Ye-jin, Kim Nam-gil
Genre: Historical, Comedy
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 3.5

Give me a historical slapstick swashbuckler about pirates and bandits fighting in a time of dynastic transition against the corrupt court and add to that a whale and imperialism and you have a recipe to make me the happiest girl on the world.

Yeo-wol is a pirate who’s successfully mutinied against a faithless captain, and she’s just been offered a contract by disgraced army captain Park Mo (AKA Ahab): bring back the imperial seal bestowed upon the newly-established Joseon by Ming, which was swallowed by a whale (hi, Moby Dick), and be rewarded with riches beyond imagination. Unfortunately for Yeo-wol, however, former lieutenant-turned-bandit Jang Sa-jung, who had opposed the rebellion that put Yi Seong-gye in power, has also heard about the prize, and he is willing to go to sea to save his failing bandit outpost. Sa-jung and Yeo-wol clash multiple times, but when both their demons come knocking, they’re forced to work together to build a future they want to live in.

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무사 |《武士》| The Warrior

942 Title: Musa (The Warrior)
Starring: Jung Woo-sung, Joo Jin-mo
Genre: Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Drama
Rating: ★★★★★ | 5.0

warnings: violence, gore

I’m probably not going to do a good job reviewing it properly for this blog because I have too many thoughts to even begin to summarise, but if you guys can handle gore/bloody battle scenes, I highly recommend y’all watch Musa (The Warrior), which stars Jung Woo-sung and Joo Jin-mo. It’s an old favourite of mine and it honestly does everything right.

The overall plot is about a small diplomatic mission from Goryeo (Korea) that gets sent to China right around the turn of the Ming Dynasty, when Zhu Yuanzhang emerged victorious from the war with Toghon Temur, the last Mongol Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty in China. Because Goryeo had previously plead allegiance to the Yuan Dynasty, the diplomatic mission is jailed and then sent into exile in the Gobi Desert.

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《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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Comfort Woman

10596Title: Comfort Woman
Author: Nora Okja Keller
Genre: realistic fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, literary fiction
Rating: ★★★★★

content warning: rape, sexual violence, sexual slavery, child neglect

This was a surprisingly easy novel to read despite its incredibly weighty topic. I’m taking an Asian American lit class this semester, and I was assigned this to read immediately following a really frustrating documentary about comfort woman, and to be quite frank, I expected to have to force myself through this, crying and moaning the whole time. And I did cry––of course I cried, I’m the girl who cried during Madagascar––but there was a sense of effervescence throughout the narrative that made it bearable. The writing was, of course, beautiful, but it wasn’t just that. There was a life to the story, a spirit.

Comfort Woman tells the parallel stories of Akiko, a Korean comfort woman, and Beccah, the daughter she eventually comes to have with the American missionary she chooses to marry in order to leave Korea. After Akiko’s death, Beccah is forced to confront the mother she thought she knew––and the woman who, she comes to realise, she didn’t know at all.

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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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