What’s the meaning of passing the university entrance exam? In today’s modern and competitive China, it’s still a gateway to a better, more promising life. But it may also mean the chance — even a slight one — to get closer to the girl of your dreams.
That’s what Young Style, a charming and beautifully shot movie about first love in high school, is all about.
The 16-year-old Ju Ran (Dong Zijian) fails the vital exam after being rejected by Huang Jingjing, 18, for whom he’s held a torch for three years. Ju retakes the entire fourth year of high school, with the same class head teacher Sa (Qin Hailu) and a group of return students. His only goal is to get into the same institution, the prestigious Fudan University, as Huang.
The movie has no major stars to impress audiences with, and compared with Japan and South Korea, the high-school movie is a relatively new genre in China. Even so, cinematographer-turned-director Liu Jie gives the characters and the cliched story a fresh feel on the screen, packing a tight hour-and-a-half full of laughter and tears.
What’s new about Young Style is not only its accessible approach, but also the great confidence Liu shows in handling the material. Naughty students, concerned parents, strict teachers and first-love pains, that’s almost all we’ve seen in other high-school movies. But under Liu’s direction, the movie plays out with so much assurance that it maintains a consistent feel without losing its focus on the lead character Ju.
On the acting side, there isn’t a weak link in the casting. While the young actors and actresses appear fresh and natural, the always-reliable Qin binds the movie together with her portrayal of a paradoxical teacher. On the one hand, she wants her unruly students to realize how important the exam is to their future. On the other hand, she avoids being a stereotyped figure of authority.
Between all the classroom pranks and playing around, the emotional undertow is provided by the audience’s desire for Ju to wake up, forget about Huang and realize there’s something more important in his life.
It’s true that in a society that’s obsessed with profit and success, often times we’re told to focus on studying and building up a career. But the movie’s subtly romantic touch certainly provides some comforting distraction that many of us need.