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Review: Girls’ Generation (2016)

Girls’ Generation

半熟少女

China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 96 mins.

Directors: A Niu 阿牛, Zhao Yu 赵宇.

Rating: 6/10.

Fluffy high-school rom-com that gets by on its cheerful young cast of singers and actors.

STORY

Somewhere in China, JW High School, the present day. Sisters 姐妹. Unable to find any fellow pupils at JW High School to perform with in a National Youth Talent Show, Zhao Min (Ke Qing) bulldozes a group of three juniors – Li Ge’er (Huang Shiqi), Wang Yiju (Jiang Qianling) and Peng Huwan (Cai Ziti) – into letting her join them in a singing act. But then Zhao Min starts to feel guilty into tricking the other three into helping her, as high-school juniors are not qualified to win. She confides her worries to a male friend, Juncheng (Zhu Juncheng). When the others do find out, they still agree to go ahead out of sisterly friendship, performing as 青春 [Youth] Wake Up. Secrets 秘密. While studying for her university entrance exam, high-school senior Nan Xin (Nan Sheng) meets Zijie (Wang Zijie) and the two get off to a bad start. She later meets Zijie’s elder twin brother Zihao (Wang Zihao), who’s a classical pianist, and asks him to join her in the talent show. However, she’s still attracted to the cheeky, outgoing Zijie, who’s into rock music, so they form a threesome socially. But then Nan Xin’s mother (Xie Qiping) orders her daughter to stay in and study hard for her exam. Enemy 冤家. High-school senior Huang Cancan (Huang Cancan), the tough leader of a girl group, beats up fellow male pupil Qiao Di (Ao Quan) for peeping on one of her gang. To really teach Qiao Di a lesson, Huang Cancan gets the idea of making him fall for her and then rejecting him. She first forces him to be her dance partner in the talent show, but eventually starts warming to him. One of her gang, Xiaoyi (Wang Xinman), then gets jealous and spills the beans to Qiao Di.

REVIEW

An episodic high-school movie with the common thread of a talent show, Girls’ Generation 半熟少女 is as unoriginal as it sounds but is harmless enough fluff that gets by on its cheerful young cast, several of whom are popular singers. For his third directorial outing, following the likeable coming-of-age film Ice Kacang Puppy Love 初恋红豆冰 (2010) and the more forgettable, high-life rom-com The Golden Couple 金童玉女 (2012), Malaysian Chinese actor-singer A Niu 阿牛, aka Chen Qingxiang 陈庆祥 [Tan Kheng Seong], 40, has returned to a youth theme, though without the localised, personal charm of Ice Kacang. Set not in his native Malaysia but in a vaguely Mainland, Mandarin-speaking world, Girls’ Generation is a rote teenage movie, divided into three tales, with lots of music and 20-something actor/singers from China, Malaysia and Taiwan pretending to be high-school students. Shot in late 2014, on Mainland release in spring 2016 it crashed with a mere RMB2 million box office.

The best comes first, in the story Sisters 姐妹, with Chinese Malaysian actress Ke Qing 可晴, 24, especially good as a klutzy student who harrasses three other girls (Chinese Malaysian singers Huang Shiqi 黄诗棋 [Yumi Wong], Jiang Qianling 江倩龄 [Emily Kong], Cai Ziti 蔡紫缇 [Daphne Chuah]) into joining her in the talent show. Some very funny physical gags get the film off to a lively start, though the story itself trails off into a vague paean to sisterhood. The second story, Secrets 秘密, is basically a vehicle for 23-year-old twins Wang Zihao 王子豪 and Wang Zijie 王子杰, of Mainland boy-group Box, playing brothers involved with the same student, much more characterfully played by Sichuan-born actress Nan Sheng 南笙, 25. The third story, Enemy 冤家, plays largely on the chemistry between 34-year-old Taiwan actor-singer Owodog 敖犬 (aka Zhuang Haoquan 庄濠全, the bragger in You Are the Apple of My Eye 那些年,我们一起追的女孩。, 2011) and top-billed, 22-year-old Mainland actress Huang Cancan 黄灿灿 (the tourist in Spicy Hot in Love 爱情麻辣烫之情定终身, 2016), with her making the most of her tomboy charisma as a tough grrrl who falls for a cheeky chappie and him proving the better dancer.

A Niu and 35-year-old Zhao Yu 赵宇 (one of many writers on Mainland youth movie No Limit 无极限之危情速递, 2011) are credited as co-directors, and Malaysian actor (here, co-writer) Chen Liqian 陈立谦 [Teddy Chin], 31, as “associate director”; but none of the episodes is specifically attributed to any of them and the film has a unified look and feel as a whole. Now looking middle-aged, A Niu pops up in a couple of scenes as a security guard-cum-music shop owner, and co-director Zhao as a teacher in the third story.

The English title has no connection with the K-Pop group; the Chinese title literally means “Half-Cooked [or Half-Ripe] Girls”. In Malaysia the film was released a month prior to China (see poster, left) under slightly different English and Chinese titles, though both sound exactly the same as the Mainland ones: Girl’s Generation 扮熟少女 (literally, “Girls Playing at Being Mature”). The film’s production title was 少女小时代 (“Girls’ Tiny Times”). The same production company earlier made the similarly titled internet movie 半熟少女  梦想预备生 (2013), roughly “Half-Cooked Girls: Preparing for One’s Dream”, a high-school-set docudrama featuring members of the Shanghai idol girl group SNH48 that’s modelled on Japan’s AKB48. It was also directed by a Malaysian Chinese, Liu Dingye 刘鼎业.

CREDITS

Presented by Beijing Times Films (CN). Produced by Beijing Times Films (CN).

Script: Li Shucheng, Chen Liqian [Teddy Chin]. Photography: Chen Guankai. Editing: Liao Kaiwei, Liu Jiajun, Zhou Weijia. Art direction: Li Yijie. Styling: Wang Ruoyi. Sound: Chu Zhixin, Zhang Mingxi. Special effects: Li Tao. Choreography: DaMove, Nic Chin. Associate direction: Chen Liqian [Teddy Chin].

Cast: I: Ke Qing (Zhao Min), Jiang Qianling [Emily Kong] (Wang Yiju), Cai Ziti [Daphne Chuah] (Peng Huwan), Huang Shiqi [Yumi Wong] (Li Ge’er), Zhu Juncheng [JC Chee] (Juncheng); II: Nan Sheng (Nan Xin), Wang Zihao (Zihao), Wang Zijie (Zijie), Cao Jieyu (Song Miaomiao, Nan Xin’s best friend), Xie Qiping (Nan Xin’s mother), A Niu (A Niu, security guard/music-shop owner); III: Huang Cancan (Huang Cancan), Owodog [Zhuang Haoquan] (Qiao Di), Jia Peiya (Xiaoyou), Guo Xuanqi (Niang Pao, sissy boy), Tan Min’er (fat girl), Wang Xinman (Xiaoyi), Lin Mingci (Hao Youquan), Yu Shengguo (Hao Youqian), Zhao Yu (Zhao, teacher), DaMove (himself).

Release: China, 25 Mar 2016.