Writer: Elaine EweWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
Those who want to write and direct a romance film, look no further for ideas than director Han Yan's "First Time", a Taiwanese romance film not unlike Giddens Ko's "You Are The Apple Of My Eye", but with less substance and more empty calories. Like cotton candy, the film weaves together various strands of romantic cliches to form a photo collage, but each sequence feels like it was placed there because of its distinct intrinsic value rather than its role in the whole. How else can you explain the cop out epilogue?
First things first, "You Are The Apple Of My Eye", this ain't. "First Time" has more in common with Mandopop music videos, and this is exemplified by its various insert songs. Each of the songs such as "Rock N Roll Man", "Stand By Me", seems as if it was written and/or recorded specifically for that scene, and while easy on the ears, it seems like an oxymoron because the scenes would have played out perfectly well without those songs. They just had to be there because lead actor plays the role of a devil-may-care guitarist with a traumatic past who is also a singer in real life along with the lead actress.
Speaking of the leads, they are perhaps the film's saving grace. Mark Chao makes for a wonderful male lead with his youthful looks and childish attitude to match. His ceaseless jumping and Shakespearean soul finds its counterpart in Angelababy's sickly character, who giggles at his silly antics but grounds him in reality with her tranquillity. It also helps that she bears a fair resemblance to the late Audrey Hepburn. The two meet in what seems to be an accidental encounter at a theme park where Gong Ning (Chao) is performing a gig and Shiqiao (Angelababy) is working as a mascot when his rooster flies into her arms. Gong Ning, realising that Shiqiao is the girl he used to go to high school with before he transferred, gives her his number and expresses his interest of making up for those lost years, and so begins a fairy tale romance between the two.
Heck, even Rupert Sander's action fairy tale "Snow White And The Huntsman" holds no candle to the fairy tale-esque romance of "First Time". The two are shown riding a bicycle together, dancing on the streets, exchanging notes via a rope basket and sitting on a bench in the middle of a beach in the middle of nowhere to share their feelings. As it turns out, Shiqiao is afflicted with a deadly disease, inherited from her father, and to protect her failing memory, she records her thoughts onto a tape, only on side A, mind you, because the medicine's side effects are over by the time she finishes rambling. "First Time" is not bad because of a cynic's point of view; it is bad because it makes the viewer a cynic.
All this takes place amidst cinematography that uses Taiwan's scenic locations as a palette to draw a jaw-dropping landscape. Every scene is tastefully planned before it is shot, with vintage decor and soft lighting. Han Yan also skilfully used a wall in an alleyway as a split screen during a more melancholic scene to illustrate the feelings of our protagonists as they go their separate ways. Add in rainy streets, lit stages for concert performances, and the incorporation of cheesy lines for most of the film, and the portrait of Taiwan painted here is a wonder to behold.
Again, the film is best evaluated through each of its distinct scenes. There are jarring comic sequences that borders on ridiculous, and those who are not fond of the slow pace in art house romance flicks will find this hard to bear. It is amazing how the storyline gently eases from one frame to another but the journey to reach the climax is so tiresome because the first half made absolutely no sense whatsoever and by the end you have eaten so much dessert that you feel nauseated looking at the main course . Plot points are spoon-fed to viewers more than is necessary such as emphasising that Shiqiao is dying, while more intriguing matters are passed over such as the background of Shiqiao's father.
On the whole, "First Time" is not really worth watching unless you have a hankering for these kinds of films (read: you read Sophie Kinsella on a regular basis and think "Valentine's Day" is the greatest movie ever made) or are a fan of the leads. Considering the hype surrounding the film, "First Time" aims big but fails deliver. You know how that the relationship between the leads will conclude eventually after reading the summary. The question is, are you willing to sit through the journey?Cinema Online, 13 June 2012