Tiny Times 2.0 (Xiao Shi Dai: Qing Mu Shi Dai): Film Review

Guo Jingming’s heavy-handed attempt in filling the emotional blanks of his first entry only served to expose the contrived nature of the relationships on show. 

The sequel to Guo Jingming’s hit adaptation of his own series of his romantic, rite-of-passage novels tracks its four protagonists’ boy problems and business acumen as they graduate from university.

A mise-en-scene which offers an unfettered celebration of the might of commodity-driven capitalism; characters with little emotional depth; a simplistic narrative which renders what should have been its protagonists’ complex rites of passage into a romp defined by merely fun, sweetness and light. Such are the flaws of Guo Jingming’s first film, an adaptation of his own novel Tiny Times, its shortcomings (and widespread critical thumbs-down) hardly impacting its way towards becoming one of the biggest (and most profitable) homegrown hits in China this year.

Perhaps sensing the need to strike when his young female demographic is still hot under the collars, Guo has bumped up his sequel a whopping four months forward, with the director spending July frantically finishing Tiny Times 2.0’s post-production in Taiwan (where most of his technical team were based) so as to unspool the film in the first week of August. And perhaps sensing the need to pacify his critics somewhat, some of the problems have been addressed – efforts which, however savvy they originally were, would only consolidate Guo’s detractors of his unsophisticated depiction of how the real world operates.

With his heavy-handed attempt to contrive, expand and then repair as many relationship schisms as possible into a two-hour film, Tiny Times 2.0 – which will be on limited release in the US starting from August 16 – won’t be bringing in new converts to the director’s cause. If he really wants to, that is: those uninitiated with the books or the first film will probably be at a loss within the web of make-ups and break-ups unfolding here.

Set four years after the first film and with its university-student protagonists now confronting the end of their school days, Tiny Times 2.0 does begin with a brief narrated-montage re-introducing the four leading characters – the perennial fumbling girl-next-door Lin Xiao (Mini Yang), the mean heiress Lily (Amber Kuo), the dreamy painter-designer Nan Xiang (Bea Hayden) and the crude crown Ruby (Hsieh Yi-lin) – and also brief recaps about how their narrative threads stand.

And while the first film is made to revolve around the climactic fashion show – with its glitzy splendor, shown there with a long, single shot following the characters through the event’s hectic backstage, basically defining that installment’s tenor – Tiny Times 2.0’s centerpiece emerges within its first half hour in the shape of Lily’s lavishly-appointed birthday dinner. What began as the Queen Bee’s crowning moment of success turned into chaos as the four women and their assortment of male cohorts turn against each other for the secret trysts and personality clashes bubbling all along the way; the wastage of a glass of red wine wasted on Lily’s expensive gown and a walkout later, Tiny Times 2.0 seemed to have entered darker dramatic times.

If only. Perhaps keenly aware of the short attention spans and the reluctance in the ordinary viewer to countenance long-lingering malice on screen – especially among good-looking, self-proclaimed friends – everything gets neatly resolved sharply and swiftly, so that shouting matches will quickly give way to yet another round of gags and all-round tomfoolery.

So it is that Lin Xiao and Ruby stood up to Lily’s arrogant put-downs, but the pair is quickly seen moving into their rich friend’s three-storeyed townhouse; so it is that Lin Xiao breaks down after learning of the infidelity of her boyfriend Jian Xi (Li Yuiming), but she patches up with him without missing a beat and then nearly has sex with him – only for the repaired bond to implode again when he lets slip of not being a virgin anymore. These episodes of confrontation only reveal the wafer-thin, nuance-free relationships being paraded on show.

But then again these are perhaps just small matters to the bigger melodrama about to unfold, as the second half of Tiny Times 2.0 is dedicated to the pursuit of two well-trodden tropes in soap operas. First, mortality and death – as Guo’s on-screen alter-ego, a pop-lit writer called Zhou Chongguang (Cheney Chen), struggles handsomely – literally and metaphorically – with cancer; and then secondly, the stand-off between money and love, with Lily confronting the hostile takeover attempts of her recently-deceased father’s corporation, with the two bids masterminded respectively by the disgruntled mother of her boyfriend Gu Yuan (Ko Chen-tung) and Lin Xiao’s hunk of a lifestyle-magazine-editor boss Gong Ming (Rhydian Vaughan).

And all these confrontations sound pretty internecine, it’s because Tiny Times is just like that: more than offering a narrative which can be conveniently developed or wrapped up, it’s a franchise (at least one more installment) which offers a fantasy of lives being lived somewhere out (or up) there, far from its target viewers’ mundane struggles of the everyday.

Which is all very well, but the problem with Guo’s films mirrors the gaudy nouveau riche his films are fascinated with: just like these poor spoilt rich kids who lacks the critical faculty to get perfect gratification from their lives, Tiny Times a visual panache which could turn sumptuously-set scenes into authentically emotional epics.

It’s perhaps telling that Nan Xiang, the only tragic character here who walked out on her friends at that dinner, was nearly wrote out of the film, her post-grad struggles away from Lily’s umbrella of protection hardly documented here: those will be real marker of real times experienced by tiny people in a tumultuous society. Meanwhile, long-flowing dresses and terminally-ill (but well-off) characters a moving film do not necessarily make.

Production Companies: Star Ritz Productions and Shenzhen Desen International Media production, presented by He Li Chen Guang Media, EE-Media, Star Ritz Productions, H&R Century Pictures, Beijing Forbidden City Film, Le Vision Pictures, Shenzhen Desen International Media, Amazing International Film, Comic Rich Film and TV Culture, Mission Media Investment (Shanghai)

Cast: Mini Yang, Amber Kuo, Ko Chen-tung, Cheney Chen, Rhydian Vaughan, Hsieh Yi-lin, Bea Hayden (Kuo Bi-ting)

Director: Guo Jingming

Screenwriter: Guo Jingming

Executive Producers: Angie Chai, Ann An, Adam Tsuei, Zhang Qiang

Director of photography: Randy Che

Production designer: Huang Wei

Sound Director: Tu Duu-chih

Musical Score Composer: Chris Hou

Music Direction: Terrytyelee (Terence Leong), Tony Wen
Editor: Ku Hsiao-yun

Art Director: Huang Ji-hsiung

US Distributor: China Lion

International Sales: Desen International Media
In Putonghua/Mandarin

Running time 114 minutes