First Time

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2012, 12:00am


Starring: Angelababy Yeung Wing, Mark Chao Yu-ting, Jiang Shan
Directed by: Han Yan
Category: IIA (Putonghua)

With First Time, director-writer Han Yan has concocted a modern-day fantasy that leaves no cliche unturned in its telling of a tragic but oh-so-beautiful love story set in a fairy-tale world that Disney executives would have found hard to swallow.

Set on Xiamen's historic Gulangyu Island, First Time is an effective advertisement of the district's charms. Equally eye-catching is the couple at the narrative's centre.

Song Shiqiao (Angelababy Yeung Wing) is a university student whose life-threatening illnesses has led to a cloistered existence under the doting care of her widowed mother (Jiang Shan). That is, until True Love enters the picture via grunge rocker Gong Ning (Mark Chao Yu-ting, above right with Yeung), who attempts to make her dreams become reality.

Or so it drearily appears when an unexpected and potentially riveting plot twist occurs.

Alas, just when it seems the director is on the verge of putting a cynical critic in his place, the yarn's new direction proves even more contrived than the last.

The deficit in reality is in sharp contrast to the overabundance of cuteness as the leads go through an emotional wringer punctuated by sappy guitar strains, unimaginatively staged pop numbers, and a dance sequence that is an unintentional comedy highlight.

The stars do what they can with the ersatz material and sometimes manage to invest the proceedings with some sincerity.

Stealing the spotlight from the younger performers is Jiang, investing the role of feisty mama with echoes of the strong personality seen in Surveillance (1997) and Something About Secret (2001).

Whatever its faults, First Time is a quality production and one of the year's prettiest, due in no small part to Charlie Lam Chi-kin's cinematography and some technically proficient if overly saccharine special effects.

The entire affair is so calculating and slick that the tear-drenched artifice might very well end up a box-office hit in the mainland if not Hong Kong, certainly not the first time celluloid dross has turned to gold.

First Time opens tomorrow