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First Time
First Time

Angelababy and Mark Chao experience their First Time.
Chinese: 第一次
Year: 2012
Director: Han Yan
Producer: Bill Kong
Writer: Han Yan
Cast: Mark Chao, Angelababy, Jiang Shan, Cindy Yen, Allen Chao, Tian Yuan, Bai Baihe, Huang Xuan, Handsome Zhao, Fan Lin, Wu Xiaoliang
  The Skinny: Upbeat remake of Korean melodrama ...ing is a fundamentally different film. The plotting gets ludicrious and the details can be cloying, but First Time manages to do enough right to make it a solid youth romantic drama. Absolutely not for cynical audiences.
 
Review
by Kozo:

If First Time is the first movie you’ve ever seen then congratulations, you should like it. If not, you may wish to suspend any cynicism or it’ll be tough going. From Han Yan, the director behind the 2008 film Winds of September – The Mainland China Chapter (which fell victim to SARFT and was never released), comes this reworking of 2003 Korean melodrama …ing, about a very ill young woman who finds some measure of happiness despite said happiness being short-lived. The original film was a low-key meller that emphasized characters over soap opera-like plot twists, but this remake is more upbeat and obvious about its manipulative and melodramatic goals. The result is a fundamentally different film with its own good and bad points. If you can take how ridiculous First Time gets, then it’s more good than bad.

Angelababy stars as Song Shiqiao, an upbeat and lovely young lady who suffers from a disease that limits living. Strenuous physical activity will send her to the hospital and possibly the afterlife, so she leads a protected existence courtesy of her mother (the excellent Jiang Shan). But Shiqiao longs to meet old high school crush Gong Ning, and even addresses him in her daily cassette-tape diary. Fortuitously, she meets Gong Ning while working mascot duty at an amusement park. Gong Ning performs at the park with his grunge rock band but their pet chicken flies into the audience, disrupts the concert and lands in Shiqiao’s arms. After she removes the head off her furry mascot costume, Gong Ning recognizes her as an old high-school acquaintance. Presto, the two are reunited and Shiqiao discovers first love – though said experience may spell her doom. A terminal disease? Furry mascot costume? Pet chicken? Grunge rock band? Yeah, this movie is subtle.

First Time starts in manufactured fashion, with a hip, eager-to-please vibe that could alienate. The bouncy, upbeat tone is matched by exaggerated performances; Angelababy is sweet, angelic and egregiously oh-so-cute (She hiccups when she’s nervous!), while Mark Chao dials the charismatic irreverence up to a blistering eleven. Production design is so beautiful that it’s overdone; living spaces are decked out like hipster gift shops, with knickknacks and Christmas lights arranged perfectly for maximum bohemian ambiance. Thankfully the film turns; Shiqiao’s initial romance with Gong Ning is the story’s “A Side” (i.e., the “A” side of a cassette tape). The “B Side” serves up a plot twist that adds darker elements and complications. The twist is straight from …ing but it helps First Time greatly, giving Mark Chao’s character added depth and allowing the romance a greater tension. The B-Side makes First Time into a better-than-average romantic melodrama.

Then the contrivances pile on, with the film introducing new elements and tying them to the old ones with increasingly unbelievable coincidences. First Time features a large cast of characters and they’re all connected in a tangled spider-web of fate that’s difficult to describe in less than three paragraphs. Luckily the film has its cassette diary plot device, allowing characters to deliver copious verbal exposition, plus there are multiple endings and even a post-credits coda that further ties things up. The tangled plot is clever but not very credible, and it’s rendered even more manufactured by romantic flourishes that make it seem like everyone, everywhere regards Gong Ning and Song Shiqiao as some sort of legendary couple. First Time’s overwritten story is actually more believable than its surfeit of romantic touchstones and pandering details. At this point, it’s best to put any cynicism aside, because cynicism says this is all a bunch of self-indulgent romantic hooey.

The confluence of coincidences outline how manufactured everything is, but for a film like First Time, it would be hard to get away from the manufactured. This is not a smart or accomplished film – instead it’s a glossy, well-made example of a particular genre designed for a certain demographic, from the cute romantic gimmicks right down to the corny dialogue. The film succeeds at delivering what it intends, and does so effectively. Despite the inherent ridiculousness, there are few plot holes, and Angelababy and Mark Chao sell their roles with charismatic and affecting gusto. First Time is a solid genre example that charms partly because it’s so cloying and calculated, and fans of this sort of commercial cinema should eat it up. Just as some audiences rally around every action or sci-fi film being made, there's an audience segment that makes romantic drama their binge genre of choice. If you belong to the latter group, then First Time is for you. (Kozo 2012)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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