All about Secrets
China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 98 mins.
Director: Lian Yiqi 连奕琦.
Hormonal high-school film is way above average, thanks to its mounting and most of the cast.
A city in southern China, the present day. Friends since childhood, Duan Bowen (Chen Yufei) and Yu Chizi (Ouyang Na’na) are now both 17 and in their first year at Tianyi Senior High. Given up trying to understand girls his own age, Duan Bowen has fallen for his beautiful teacher Li Er (Mi Mi) and Yu Chizi gives him a hard time over his obsession. She’s also annoyed over another girl in their class, Si Jiali (Zou Yuanqing), fancying him. As he doesn’t get on with his mother (Zhang Yao), and his father (Cao Weiyu) has left home, Duan Bowen often comes round to Yu Chizi’s home, where her mother (Yong Mei) cooks him meals. After discovering that Li Er has a boyfriend (Ou Hao), Duan Bowen finally corners her by a lake she often visits, and they end up going back to her flat for noodles, where she reveals she’s deaf in her left ear. When Duan Bowen’s father is in a car crash after drinking, Duan Bowen’s mother comes round to Yu Chizi’s home and accuses her mother of stealing Duan Bowen’s father from her. Old tensions come to the surface and Duan Bowen’s mother leaves town. During their second year of senior high, Yu Chizi is separated from Duan Bowen when she specialises in science and he, as well as Si Jiali, takes humanities. Duan Bowen starts working at a bar in the evenings and sees a lot of Si Jiali. Frustrated, Yu Chizi takes a picture of the two of them together in the bar, which leads to major repercussions.
It’s been a busy period for Taiwan director Lian Yiqi 连奕琦, with three features hitting screens this year, of which Mainland high-school movie All about Secrets 秘果 was the first – rapidly followed by Malaysia-set crime drama Peace Breaker 破•局 (a remake of South Korea’s A Hard Day 끝까지 간다, 2014) and Taiwan romance All Because of Love 痴情男子汉, both released the following month. Somewhere he also found time to direct a 24-part TV drama series based on the same novel as Secrets which started airing in Apr 2017, three months before the movie version was released in the Mainland. Though the film failed to set the box office alight, with only a weedy RMB8 million, it’s a cut above the average high-school film, with Lian, 40, again doing something fresh with generic material, if not to the same extent as in his previous two features, offbeat drama Make Up 命运化妆师 (2011) and crime comedy Secret Alibis 甜蜜杀机 (2014).
Adapted from her own 2009 novel of the same name by prolific, Sichuan-born writer Rao Xueman 饶雪漫, 44, it’s a kind of sequel to The Left Ear 左耳 (2015), by Taiwan actor-director Su Youpeng 苏有朋 [Alec Su], on which Lian was credited as “executive director” and which was a surprise box-office hit in 2015 (RMB485 million). The central character of that film, Li Er, is now a teacher at a high school with the same name (Tianyi) and the object of admiration by a 17-year-old student, Duan Bowen, who’s given up on girls his own age. This is a major source of annoyance to his childhood friend, the hyper but slightly dim Yu Chizi, who’s not his offical girl but often behaves like it; she’s also jealous of the attention paid to Duan Bowen by a clever female classmate, leading to Yu Chizi taking a revenge that has major repercussions. Between all this, spread over two years at senior high, reference is made to past family tensions and the character of Li Er drifts in and out of the main story, which centres on the students.
The TVD version (see poster, left) was shot in Zhuhai, across the border from Hong Kong, but the film in Dali, down south in Yunnan province. As usual, the casts are different in the two versions, apart from TV actress Mi Mi 米咪 who plays Li Er in both versions (as well as playing Li Er in the TVD version of Left Ear). Further knitting all the various productions together, the name of the leading male character in Secrets, Duan Bowen 段柏文, sounds exactly the same as that of supporting actor Duan Bowen 段博文 in Left Ear, while Mainland actor Ou Hao 欧豪 plays Li Er’s boyfriend, Zhang Yang, in the film versions of both Left Ear and Secrets. Phew.
All of this is par for the course with the novels of Rao, which are often inter-connected and focus on teenage emotions. The plot of Secrets is also nothing new, with the usual hormonal hi-jinks, a quiet and reserved male lead, and his antsy best female friend. What make it stand out from the pack are the way-above-average production values – especially the widescreen photography by Mainland d.p. Shi Luan 石栾 (Falling Flowers 萧红, 2012; Love in the 1980s 1980年代的爱情, 2015; When Larry Met Mary 陆垚知马俐, 2016) and varied score by Dou Peng 窦鹏 (Special ID 特殊身份, 2013), both alert to the changes of tone from comedy, through romance to drama – and most of the performances. Rarely for an Asian film, the two leads play their own ages, but Taiwan cellist-turned actress Ouyang Na’na 欧阳娜娜 (Beijing Love Story 北京爱情故事, 2014; Beautiful Accident 美好的意外, 2017) completely outclasses her colourless co-star, Mainland actor Chen Feiyu 陈飞宇. Ouyang is especially good at conveying the nature of the slightly dim but manipulative Yu Chizi, who’s perky-cute but very self-centred. As her female nemesis, Mainland actress Zou Yuanqing 邹元清, 19, strongly etches a maturer role in her screen debut. (She is to be seen soon, alongside actress Yan Ni 闫妮, in the comedy I Am Your Mom 我是你妈.) Mi is fine as the sympathetic teacher, and Ou has a tiny role as her boyfriend.
Interestingly, even though the film was financed, set and shot in the Mainland, it often has a Taiwan look and flavour, unlike Su’s Left Ear. Among those involved in the planning was Taiwan actress Lin Xinru 林心如 [Ruby Lin], whom Lian directed in the TV movie Forgotten 遗忘 (2012) and who has, like Su, worked frequently in the Mainland. Taiwan TVD director Xu Fuxiang 许富翔 gets a “special thanks” in the end credits. The film’s Chinese title means “Secret Fruit”.
Presented by Beijing Bi’an Studios (CN), Colorful Enlight Pictures (BJ), Jiangsu Dreamhouse Film Industry (CN), Dongyang Hongjing Film & TV Culture (CN), Shenzhen Funs Media (CN).
Script: Rao Xueman. Novel: Rao Xueman. Photography: Shi Luan. Editing: Chen Zhiwei [Andy Chan]. Music: Dou Peng. Art direction: Wu Ruoyun. Styling: Wei Xiangrong. Sound: Zhang Huanbao, Du Duzhi, Jiang Lianzhen. Visual effects: Zhang Wei (Changkong Image).
Cast: Chen Yufei (Duan Bowen/Mili), Ouyang Na’na (Yu Chizi), Ou Hao (Zhang Yang, Li Er’s boyfriend), Mi Mi (Li Er/Xiaoerduo/Little Ear, teacher), Zou Yuanqing (Si Jiali), Zhang Chenghang (Wang Dazhu/Heng Dao), Yong Mei (Sun Ping, Yu Chizi’s mother), Cao Weiyu (Duan Bowen’s father), Zhang Yao (Dong Jialei, Duan Bowen’s mother), Rong Zishan (young Duan Bowen), Lin Kaixin (young Yu Chizi, aged 10), Li Lixian (Wang Dazhu’s grandmother).
Release: China, 7 Jul 2017.