Days of Our Own
China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 90 mins.
Directors: Ma Weihao 马伟豪 [Joe Ma], Liu Hai 刘海.
University-to-real-life tale of three BFFs is too bittily constructed to elicit any emotion.
Changsha city, Hunan province, southern China. First Movement: Youth 第一乐章 青春. It is 1 Apr 2003: southern China is in the middle of a SARS outbreak, and three Hunan University roommates-cum-BFFs – tomboyish Zhang Jingyi (Zhao Liying), her special friend “piano baby” Chen Yinuo (Wu Yingjie), and wannabe actress Liang Xiaoyi (Ban Jiajia) – are in their final year. Liang Xiaoyi uses the campus radio station to practise her acting. Meanwhile, the shy Chen Yinuo takes a liking to fellow student Guo Yichen (Qiao Renliang) – a friend of Liang Xiaoyi’s boyfriend Zhuo Feng (Feng Mingchao) – so her friends help her in arranging a date. He, however, seems more interested in computer games. Chen Yinuo dreams of entering a piano competition and, when in anger she uncharacteristically daubs paint over the car of a vindictive teacher (Cheng Jie), Zhang Jingyi takes the blame to protect her friend. As a result, Zhang Jingyi is excluded from the graduation process, and leaves university without a degree. She gets a job in a small CD shop; Chen Yinuo practises for her competition; Liang Xiaoyi gets small modelling jobs for print ads. The three friends still see each other socially and fool around. Second Movement: Reality 第二乐章 现实. It is 2004, and Zhang Jingyi is pleasantly surprised to see Guo Yichen when he comes back to Changsha from his home in Beijing. She also manages to get a job as a receptionist at ad agency Mode, run by the authoritarian Coco (Xu Jing), where she gets to know a friendly bike courier, Du Hao (Fan Yichen). Guo Yichen decides to tell Chen Yinuo that he actually prefers Zhang Jingyi. Afterwards, Chen Yinuo falls down some stairs and injures her arm, thus ending her dream of entering the piano competition. Shocked, Zhang Jingyi tells Guo Yichen that she cannot go out with him, out of loyalty to Chen Yinuo. In 2006, Liang Xiaoyi and Zhuo Feng leave to develop her acting career, but things don’t go well. Du Hao, who’s started his own business, invites Zhang Jingyi to work with him, but she turns him down. And then Chen Yinuo finds out about Zhang Jingyi and Guo Yichen’s relationship, and confronts them both. Third Movement: Change 第三乐章 改变. It is 2008: Liang Xiaoyi is now a successful actress, Zhang Jingyi has been promoted at work, and Guo Yichen is still with Chen Yinuo. But five years later fate plays an unexpected hand.
A curious combination of talent comes up with a suitably curious result in Days of Our Own我们的十年, a familiar trot around the university-to-adult-life block that sometimes works but is mostly very messy. Executive directed by veteran Hong Kong journeyman Ma Weihao [Joe Ma] (Lawyer Lawyer 算死草, 1997; The Lion Roars 我家有一只河东狮, 2002), and directed by 30-something Beijinger Liu Hai 刘海 (Chongqing youth film 爱情幸运星之打望, 2014, unreleased), it’s meant as a showpiece for both popular TV drama actress Zhao Liying 赵丽颖 and the late actor-singer Qiao Renliang 乔任梁. But thanks to a stop-start script that’s never sure where it’s really going, the romantic chemistry doesn’t click as it should, and the story’s main core of three female BFFs is rarely convincing due to quirky casting.
The film doesn’t make much of the relatively unfamiliar setting of Changsha, capital of Hunan province, and simply plunges straight into the story of three female roommates in their last year at university and the various men in their lives. Zhao, 29, was very good as the motor-mouthed mathematics Wunderkind in the goofy rom-com The Rise of a Tomboy 女汉子真爱公式 (2016); but in Days – actually her first lead film role, shot before Tomboy – she not only looks weird in a pudding-basin haircut but also seems much more constricted and less warm, despite also playing a tomboyish character.
Though her role appears to have been cut back, Ban Jiajia 班嘉佳 (the wild-girl best friend in EX-Files 前任攻略, 2014) consistently acts Zhao off the screen as the wacky wannabe actress of the trio, while Taiwan singer-actress Wu Yingjie 吴映洁 (previously in The Four 四大名捕 costume martial-arts trilogy, 2012-14) just simpers as the girly member of the group for whom Zhao’s tomboy has a close affection. It’s a curious central trio whose chemistry appears to work initially but doesn’t develop any emotional heft in the long run.
Starting with his geeky shop assistant in One Night in Supermarket 夜•店 (2009), Qiao appeared in some two dozen movies in the space of seven years but mostly in supporting roles and not establishing any distinctive screen persona. In Days, however, when the script gives him a chance, he’s okay as the techie for whom Wu’s character pines but who has a secret mutual affection with Zhao’s tomboy. Fan Yichen 范逸臣 is also briefly likeable as a bike courier. However, the bitty screenplay – which, as per the film’s Chinese title (“Our Ten Years”), is spread over a decade – comes up with plot developments better suited to TV drama (including an earthquake) and doesn’t have a strong central arc to elicit any real emotion. Despite all that, the film looks fine on a technical level, and has been brought in at a tight 90 minutes.
The film had an elongated journey to the screen. Originally announced alongside Qiao in 2014 was actress Shi Yanfei 施艳飞 (aka Shi Yufei 施予斐), who’s now nowhere to be seen and appears to have been replaced by Zhao; among the writers was Chen Jianzhong 陈建忠 (Young Love Lost 少年巴比伦, 2015) whose name has also disappeared, with the script finally credited to newcomer Meng Xiaobao 孟小豹 and industry journeyman Ye Xiaozhou 叶小舟. Following shooting in the summer of 2014, a version seems to have been prepared for an autumn 2015 release but was shelved; a year later, in Sep 2016, the film was finally released and, because of the delay, became the final published work of Qiao who, after suffering clinical depression for some time, committed suicide on 16 Sep 2016 in his native Shanghai, aged 28.
Presented by Hunan Trueman Media (CN), Hiyoung Film & TV (CN), Shenzhen Golden Rose Media (CN), Mei Ah Great Wall Media (Beijing) (CN), Beijing GYZ Holdings (CN). Produced by Hunan Trueman Media (CN), Hiyoung Film & TV (CN).
Script: Meng Xiaobao, Ye Xiaozhou. Photography: Xie Tianxiang. Editing: Zhang Jiahui, Wen Jing. Ma Weihao Workshop editing: Wei Yong. Music: Xiaozhuang, Hong Chuan. Art direction: Yang Jize, Cao Yadong. Styling: Chuan Nan. Sound: Liu Yang, Zhao Xiaofei. Visual effects: Li Weidong. Executive direction: Huang Jianyun.
Cast: Zhao Liying (Zhang Jingyi), Qiao Renliang (Guo Yuchen), Wu Yingjie (Chen Yinuo/Piano Baby), Ban Jiajia (Liang Xiaoyi), Fan Yichen (Du Hao), Feng Mingchao (Zhuo Feng), Li Youlin (CD shop owner), Xu Jing (Coco), Choupituo [Yang Yi] (fat female student), Shi Yi (Aimi/Amy, Coco’s assistant), Du Tao (Zhao Xiaofei), Cheng Jie (Mei Chaofeng, teacher), Tan Yike (female teacher), Liu Zhen (chemist’s boss), Xiong Xiaowen, Xu Chali.
Release: China, 2 Sep 2016.