Our Shining Days
China/Hong Kong, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 103 mins.
Director: Wang Ran 王冉.
Charming, lively youth comedy set in a music school where Chinese and Classical Music do battle.
A city somewhere in China, the present day. Chen Jing (Xu Lu), a Chinese Music second-year student at Zhongxia Music Academy’s Affiliated High School, sees handsome Classical Music student Wang Wen (Luo Mingjie) practising at the piano one day and immediately falls for him. However, her geeky fellow student Li You (Peng Yuchang) reminds her that the two music departments are perpetually at war, so romances are banned. Despite that, Chen Jing volunteers to be Wang Wen’s page-turner at a concert the Classical Music department is giving; but when she declares her liking for him, he callously rejects her, saying he hasn’t even heard of the instrument she plays (the yangqin). Insulted, Chen Jing determines to form a Chinese Music ensemble but the only student who’s interested is Li You. In desperation she approaches four first-year students reputed to be ACG/cosplay nerds. She manages to win their support by offering them garage kits 手办, and they name the ensemble Dimension 2.5 二·五次元. Initially, Chen Jing doesn’t take seriously the weird four: sweet lolitas Beibei (Lu Zhaohua) and Tata (Han Zhongyu), mute Sakura (Li Nuo) and their punky leader Xiaomai (Liu Yongxi). But when she discovers that Xiaomai is online guzheng star Thousand Fingers 千指大人, Chen Jing sees them in a new light, and the four end up teaching her and Li You about Chinese Music. Thanks to Xiaomai’s reputation, the ensemble is invited to perform at an ACG convention, where it’s a surprise hit. Chen Jing posts an online video shaming Wang Wen. Having got satisfaction, she wants to drop the ensemble, whereupon Xiaomai accuses her of having only a superficial interest in Chinese Music. However, subsequent events fire up Chen Jing’s interest, leading to a public duel between the Chinese Music and Classical Music departments.
Chinese Music and Classical Music do battle at a high-school academy in Our Shining Days 闪光少女, an energetic, thoroughly entertaining, if pretty superficial youth comedy that’s motored by a lively performance from TV actress Xu Lu 徐璐, 22, in only her second big-screen role after the offbeat comedy-drama The Light 减法人生 (2016). Apart from its musical theme of East vs West, and the way in which it doesn’t develop into a high-school rom-com, there’s not much else that’s original about Shining. But it’s put together in a charming way, with a likeable cast, and doesn’t take itself seriously, making this a strong feature debut by thirtysomething director Wang Ran 王冉 after work in commercials.
Wang previously made the online 15-minute short Reset Mix 夜店小团圆 (2013), a Youku Original production starring actor-singer Jing Boran 井柏然 with wacky/magical elements (see poster, left). Both that and Shining were penned by Wang’s novelist/scriptwriter wife Bao Jingjing 鲍鲸鲸, 30, who came to fame via her novel she co-adapted into hit rom-com Love Is Not Blind 失恋33天 (2011) but then crashed to earth with another rom-com, Up in the Wind 等风来 (2013) – also from her own novel and also directed by Teng Huatao 滕华涛 – that only earned a quarter of the previous film’s amount. Apart from writing Teng’s blah episode in the portmanteau Run for Love 奔爱 (2016), Shining is Bao’s first film since Wind; though it took a disappointing RMB65 million at the Mainland box office – slightly less than Wind – its quality makes up for the artistic flop of Wind in spades.
Hardly recognisable from the 200-lb. fattie she played in The Light, Xu is all big specs, mop hair and crusading teenage energy as Chen Jing, a yangqin player whose rejection by a handsome young pianist in the Classical Music department sparks a war of revenge into which four ACG nerds – who just happen to be genuine advocates of Chinese Music as well – are drawn, exposing Chen Jing’s superficiality. The script doesn’t so much emphasise any East-West cultural battle (students on both sides are Chinese) as the social one: all the Classical Music students are snooty, career-orientated fu’erdai (children of rich parents) while the Chinese Music ones are impassioned and a bit rowdy. Bao’s script goes for a feel-good ending, in which co-operation and mutual respect win out over confrontation – an eastern rather than a western solution.
The film sustains its energy from a mass of small details and quirky ideas, starting with the two music departments being so hostile to each other that they’re separated by an iron gate in the same building. The script has fun with ACG geeks – imposingly led by Xinjiang-born actress Liu Yongxi 刘泳希, 24, a real guzheng player, in her feature-film debut – who turn out to be not so geeky at all, as well as with New China’s whole youth industry; they’re hardly new subjects in Mainland cinema but come over as fresh thanks to the light ensemble tone that Wang establishes. Two sequences are standout: a musical duel to Flight of the Bumble Bee watched by an education official (Hong Kong’s Chen Yixun 陈奕迅 [Eason Chan] in a sly cameo) and a charming, unexpected coda involving fireflies that underscores the semi-fairytale approach.
As Chen Jing’s male pal who also emerges from his nerdy chrysalis, TV’s Peng Yuchang 彭昱畅, 22, has good chemistry with Xu in his big-screen debut. Though most of the film is set at the school, with home lives hardly shown, comedienne Yan Ni 闫妮 pops up to good effect in one crucial scene as Chen Jing’s mother. Production values, with several Hong Kong key crew, are bright and slick, led by flavoursome widescreen photography by Zhang Ying 张颖 (Mad World 一念无明, 2016; Dealer/Healer 毒。诫, 2017), smart editing supervised by Kuang Zhiliang 邝志良, and some eye-catching costumes by Wang Baoyi 王宝仪. Locations for the fictional setting were in Tianjin and Wuxi.
Presented by BDI Films (CN), Edko Films (HK), Edko (Beijing) Films (CN), Coobot Cultural Communication (Tianjin) (CN).
Script: Bao Jingjing. Photography: Zhang Ying. Editing: Kuang Zhiliang, Bai Huiling, Wang Ran. Music direction: Liang Qiaobai. Art direction: Su Guohao. Styling: Wang Baoyi. Visual effects: Li Zhaohua.
Cast: Xu Lu (Chen Jing), Peng Yuchang (Li You), Luo Mingjie (Wang Wen, pianist), Liu Yongxi (Xiaomai/Qianzhi Daren/Lightning Fingers, guzheng player), Han Zhongyu (Tata, pipa player), Lu Zhaohua (Beibei, zhongruan player), Li Nuo (Yingzai/Sakura, erhu player), Chen Yusi (Zheng You’en, violinist), Chen Yixun [Eason Chan] (Education Department inspector), Yan Ni (Chen Jing’s mother), Geng Le (Chen Jing’s father), Le Sihong (Four Eyes), Lu Jianyi (headmaster), Cui Kefa (Sun, old caretaker), Tang Zhen (inspector’s daughter), Li Quanyou (Xiaomai’s father), Qin Yue (Xiaomai’s mother), Lin Chenhan (young Chen Jing), Shen Zheqi (young Li You), Wu Yueqiang (young Xiaomai), Wang Yixin (young Sakura), Zhao Yunzhuo (young Beibei), Zhao Tiange (young Tata), Zhang Yuejia (childhood Chen Jing).
Premiere: Shanghai Film Festival (Media Awards), 18 Jun 2017.
Release: China, 20 Jul 2017; Hong Kong, tba.