Director: Michael Wang
Cast: Dongjun Han, Zhuang Zhiqi
It may sound fickle, but this particular genre of storytelling is so dated and frail that something as tiny as a two-second slate at the end of a film can single-handedly lower the bar. “Don’t let a promise become just a beautiful memory,” this one preaches, immediately morphing into one of those sappy teenaged facebook rose-petal quasi-wedding videos scored by wisps of keen elevator music. I firmly believe that if you need phrases to be physically written, and ideas to be spelled out, after an entire sequence of events made to suggest these emotions, perhaps you’re using the wrong medium. I’m allergic to these ‘moral of the story’ devices, even more so if they find the need to occupy the final frame of what is essentially a music-video-style romantic drama.
The Story of 90 Coins, a consciously mainstream Chinese short film, begins quaintly enough. Somewhat reminiscent, at least tonally, of the sweet South Korean love story, My Sassy Girl (2001), this one opens with a lovesick man convincing a reluctant woman to spend 90 days with him before making up her mind; he will gift her a nickel in a cute brown envelope for each happy day spent together. Either a marriage certificate or a parting drink, he promises loftily – naively expressing the headiness of the quintessential honeymoon period.
She falls for him, of course, and a well-shot montage and voiceover keeps us in line with its breezy ad-film treatment. So far, so comfortable. Issues, both narrative-wise and figuratively, begin when the old ‘life happens’ adage takes visual form. A Spanish-sounding French dude shows up at her office, and suddenly, the film becomes as awkward as its choppy male protagonist.
The problem with a film of this sort is that it aspires so hard to be a “movie,” that most of its soul and skill and craft gets lost in its pursuit of cinematic splendor. It becomes more of an all-or-nothing scenario, given that it’s 2017 and sweet-smelling ‘500 Days of Asian Summer’ sagas feel ten years too late. I like the structure of its last few minutes, though the music and the tears and reaction shots feel too overwrought – enough for even an American rom-com’s trademark-resolution final act to redden with embarrassment.
The problem with a film of this sort is that it aspires so hard to be a “movie,” that most of its soul and skill and craft gets lost in its pursuit of cinematic splendor.
To be fair, as is evident from its title, ‘The Story of 90 Coins’ ambitiously packs in quite a bit in ten minutes. The slate ruins its own carefully cultured sensibilities, but it’d be a stretch to say that this is a fresh, nuanced film that would’ve held firm without it. I found myself wondering, instead, if those coins symbolized some kind of economical, post-modern South-Asian take on love in the time of demonetization.
Watch the short film here: