Based upon a Korean original, First Time brings along certain amount of visual poetry through subtle but elegant camera work and "lens flare" cinematography. Set decoration takes up quite a fair amount of visual attention besides the likeable characters and CG effects, complementing an interesting storyarc that retells its story in another perspective during the second act. But essentially, it is a romantic melodrama at its core that suggests that it's likely to be better enjoyed by genre fans.
College student Shi has a terminal illness. There are experiences she knows she’ll probably never have, like falling in love. So when an old high school crush named Gong suddenly resurfaces, she is surprised and swept away by his interest in her. Because side effects of her medication cause Shi to suffer short-term memory loss, she recounts everything onto cassette tape to remember the details of their precious time together. With Gong, she feels true joy. In spite of her condition, Shi looks at life with hope. But Shi doesn’t know that her mother, wishing to give her a chance to experience romance before it’s too late, hired Gong to pursue her. Resistant at first to fulfill the strange request, Gong ultimately relented because he needed the money. To him, it was supposed to be a straightforward business transaction. When Shi’s mother finds out that Gong encouraged Shi to pursue her dream of being a dancer, she angrily confronts him. Knowing that dancing could kill her, Shi’s mother tells Gong to call off their deal. But no one could have anticipated that Gong would begin to care deeply about Shi, that their lives, dreams, and passions would begin to intertwine. Breaking it off would have been easy before but now, everything is different…because Gong has already fallen in love with Shi…
During the end credits, it states that First Time is based upon a Korean film "...ing". Lee Eon-hie's film has managed to captivate the hearts of the filmmakers to produce a Chinese take that has fared well enough to induce curiosity to view the Korean original.
I have not seen the original and now I'm keen.
Director Han Yan establishes its first act via the perspective of its female lead Song Shiqiao (Angelababy) where affairs are played out almost akin to teenage drama style where implausibility is soaring high. This act in all's honesty, failed to capture my attention as it did start like many other genre works and I was almost convinced of expecting mundaneness until the end of the first act caught me offguard.
The second act is where the film turns to intrigue.
***Potential Spoiler Alert***
Retelling the first act through the other main lead Gong Ning (Mark Chao) and Shi's mother (Jiang Shan), the film reveals that there is more than meets the eye. Attempting to address some confused plot pieces observed in the first act, it also injects depth and dimension into the otherwise plain plot structure. While the second act sufficiently induces surprise, the predictability of the elements of plot surprise is still present for the veteran genre patrons.
***End of Potential Spoiler***
The third act begins to fulfill its genre deliverables with climatic melodrama amidst a denser atmosphere of sorrow (and dread, for some who are allergic). Nevertheless, genre expectations have to be fulfilled and so for those who aren't looking for romantic melodrama you have been advised.
What makes First Time so watchable is its likeable characters that are both well-scripted and acted. Angelababy and Jiang Shan both make impressions as I find myself taking a liking to their role personalities. Angelababy is a porcelain beauty, but she allows herself to immerse into her character and transforms her onscreen expressions and demeanour credibly. Often seen looking worn out and lack of vigour, it is possibly one of the rare times that teenage drama films choose not to beautify their illness-stricken female leads (to be honest, some look like they could live a hundred years with all the pretty makeup and hairdo).
A wise choice indeed, in my opinion.
Technical excellence is also noticed in this film, where cinematography seems to be drawn to overexposed visual composition. Lens flares are frequently spotted throughout and instead of irritation, it seems to suggest that the solar flares represent moments and memories of good times.
Yes, First Time is all about capturing the moments.
Saturated by high framerate slowing of the delicate moments held between the main leads, the narration of the couple's relationship can be strongly felt through its surrealistic scenes that whisper blissful sweet nothings to the audience. The art direction feels appropriate and comfortable, albeit not being consistent as there are bubbly adolescent animations peppered during some of the teenage girl fantasy sequences.
This feels like nothing less of a worthy genre production, even for non genre fans.
(Photo source: Golden Village Pictures)