First Time 第一次
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 106 mins
Directed by Han Yan (韓延)
By Derek Elley
Thu, 14 June 2012, 09:20 AM (HKT)
Chinese re-working of a South Korean romance is far richer than the original. Asian events.
Xiamen, China, the present day. Sonq Shiqiao (Angelababy), 22, lives with her devoted mother, widowed shopowner Zheng Qing (Jiang Shan). Shiqiao, who always dreamed of being a ballet dancer, cannot exert herself physically as she suffers from form of myasthenia, a neuromuscular disease, that her father died of; the medication she takes also causes memory lapses. One day, at a charity fair, she bumps into Gong Ning (Mark Chao), a former high-school friend she always liked, and the two end up dating, despite the initial disapproval of her mother. Gong Ning dropped out of university to spend more time with a rock band he leads; also, his girlfriend, dancer Peng Wei (Cindy Yen), has dumped him because of his inability to focus his life. However, for Shiqiao, Gong Ning is the perfect partner.
An extensive re-working, rather than a simple re-make, of the South Korean drama ...ing ．．．ｉｎｇ［아이앤지］ (2003), First Time 第一次 is a far richer experience than the original on every level, even though this Mainland Chinese version also totally depends on the right chemistry between the three leads. In the central role of the terminally ill Shiqiao, Shanghai-born actress-model Angelababy 楊穎 is again (following Love You You 夏日樂悠悠 (2011)) paired opposite a Taiwanese pin-up, in this case Mark CHAO 趙又廷 (Monga 艋舺 (2010), Love 愛), and their chemistry evolves into something romantic, witty and quite special. Grounding the whole movie, however, is the performance of TV and film veteran JIANG Shan 江珊 (Tell Me Your Secret 說出你的秘密 (1999), Surveillance 埋伏 (1996)) as Shiqiao's devoted mother, a potentially icky role that Jiang handles in a refreshingly down-to-earth way.
The original film — about a devoted mother, her lonely teenage daughter, and a lodger in the downstairs flat who starts dating her — was a smoothly made but fairly routine light drama, loaded with South Korean cuteness and featuring an almost offhand twist near the end. It was sustained entirely by its uncloying performances: offbeat actress IM Su-jeong 임수정 | 林秀晶 (I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK 싸이보그지만 괜찮아 (2006), All About My Wife 내 아내의 모든 것), then at the start of her career after A Tale of Two Sisters 장화홍련 (2003); TV drama actor KIM Rae-won 김래원 | 金來沅 as her carefree, older boyfriend; and the always reliable LEE Mi-suk 이미숙 | 李美淑 (An Affair 정사 (1998), Untold Scandal 스캔들 (2003)) as the loving mother.
Han's re-imagining makes big changes to the basic structure: the heroine is a 22-year-old woman rather than a high-schooler, and subject to mild amnesia rather than the shame of a deformed hand, and the hero is a university dropout-turned-rock singer rather than a young guy who's just moved in downstairs. But the most radical change is to divide the film into two halves ("Side A", "Side B", in reference to cassette tapes the heroine records), and springing the main twist at the changeover, with more to follow. The twists motor the second half and even, in fact, make sense dramatically. First Time doesn't hide the fact that it trades on Asian romantic cliches, but director-writer Han always gives the impression he's trying to bend the genre a little and keep the audience on its toes. In "Side A", he presents a conventional, idealised romance; in "Side B", he deconstructs it and then patches it together again.
Among its twists and turns, "Side B" also gives a personality and backstory to Chao's character, who up till then has been little more than a conventional hunk-of-the-month. Chao first showed a talent for romantic comedy in his Beijing-set scenes opposite Vicki ZHAO 趙薇 in Love; here he gets a whole feature to himself opposite one of Asia's hottest newcomers, Angelababy, and manages not only a convincing transformation but also to occasionally divert the viewer's attention away from her.
Angelababy still trades on the goofy cuteness she used in Love in Space 全球熱戀 (2011) and partly in Love You You, but also shows the straighter acting style of Hot Summer Days 全城熱戀 (2010). Though it's too soon to talk of her being a proper dramatic actress — and First Time is hardly a vehicle for that, anyway — the camera indisputably loves her, and her energy, combined with Chao's easy likability, keeps the movie from curdling in its young-love juices. However, it's still Jiang's expertly modulated performance that keeps both the other two on track.
Among the supporting players, Chao's real-life father, Allen CHAO 趙樹海, is good in a whole subplot developed from a tiny character hint in the original Korean film, while fast-rising actress BAI Baihe 白百何 (The Law of Attraction 萬有引力 (2011), Love Is Not Blind 失戀３３天 (2011)) has fun in a rock-singer cameo that completely redefines her cute screen image. In one of her first movie roles, American-born singer-composer Cindy YEN 袁咏琳 is briefly memorable in an ex-girlfriend role.
The film's visual design is rich, with homely art direction by Malaysian-born Jeffrey KONG 江漢林 (The Forbidden Kingdom 功夫之王 (2008), Love in Disguise 戀愛通告 (2010)), and striking graphic and animation design by two name Hong Kongers, director-photographer Wing SHYA 夏永康 and cartoonist Siu Hak 小克. Widescreen photography of Xiamen's more scenic quarters by Hong Kong d.p. Charlie LAM 林志堅 (Isabella 伊莎貝拉 (2005), Echoes of the Rainbow 歲月神偷 (2009)) is generally sharp and colourful, with occasional romantic mistiness that's not necessary. An early musical number based round the song Stand By Me is wittily staged; but dance scenes later in the movie are only so-so, with mobile editing to hide the fact that Angelababy can't really do the moves.
ContactSales: Edko Films, Hong Kong (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: China, 8 Jun 2012; Hong Kong, 8 Jun 2012.
Presented by BDI Films (CN), Irresistible Beta (HK), Beijing Happiness Union (CN), Edko (Beijing) Films (CN), Edko Films (Hong Kong), in association with China Movie Channel. Produced by BDI Films (CN). Executive producers: Yan Xiaoming, Hao Li, Chiba Ryuhei, Hugh Simon, Chen Ziqiu, Phil Hwang. Producer: Bill Kong.
Script: Han Yan. Film: ...ing (2003). Photography: Charlie Lam. Editing: Angie Lam. Music: Keith Chan, Zhou Jiaojiao. Songs: JVR Music. Production design: Jeffrey Kong. Costume design: Rennie Tse. Sound: Zhou Lei. Animation: Eclipse Studio. Animation character design: Siu Hak. Graphic design: Wing Shya.
Cast: Mark Chao (Gong Ning/Lü Xia), Angelababy (Song Shiqiao), Jiang Shan (Zheng Qing, her mother), Cindy Yen (Peng Wei, Gong Ning's ex-girlfriend), Allen Chao (Gong Ning's father), Tian Yuan (Gu Qi, rock band member), Bai Baihe (Wei Jiajia, rival rock singer), Huang Xuan (Li Rao, Peng Wei's new boyfriend), Handsome Zhao (rock band member), Fan Lin (Meng Dong), Wu Xiaoliang.
2003 SOUTH KOREAN VERSION
Director: Lee Eon-hee (李彥禧)
2003, colour, 1.85:1, 103 mins
Theatrical release: South Korea, 28 Nov 2003
Presented by Tube Entertainment (SK). Produced by Dreammax (SK). Executive producers: Kim Seung-beom, Mun Seong-jun. Producer: Phil Hwang.
Script: Kim Jin. Photography: Kim Byeong-seo. Editing: Lee Hyeon-mi. Music: Bang Jun-seok. Art direction: Gang Jeong-hun. Costumes: Son Sam-ju. Sound: Park Jun-o.
Cast: Im Su-jeong (Gang Min-a), Kim Rae-won (Yeong-jae), Lee Mi-suk (Kim Mi-suk, Min-a's mother), Choi Deok-mun (Gi-su), Lee Seong-gyeong (Kim, nurse), Lee Jae-eun (acquarium guide), Kim Ji-yeong (auntie), Yun Deok-hyeon (Gyeong-su), Lee Yu-jeong (Jin-yeong), Kim In-mun (Gyeong-bi), Kim Seong-mi (ballet mistress).