Double Feature: The Kissing Booth 2 (2020) & Skyscraper (2018)

Welcome to the next double feature! I have to say that I may have given up on the alphabet format but I don’t think anyone else was really following that anyways…always get stuck at Q. Either way, next pairing are two movies I saw as breathers in between Fantasia screenings. The first is The Kissing Booth 2 (which I’m still wondering why I saw since I didn’t like the first one) and the second is Skyscraper which has Dwayne Johnson which is almost guaranteed a nice mindless entertainment movie night. Not exactly the typical sort of pairing but it is what it is.

Let’s check it out!

The Kissing Booth 2 (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Vince Marcello

Cast: Joey King, Joel Courtney, Jacob Elordi, Taylor Zakhar Perez, Molly Ringwald, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Meganne Young, Stephen Jennings

In the sequel to 2018’s THE KISSING BOOTH, high school senior Elle juggles a long-distance relationship with her dreamy boyfriend Noah, college applications, and a new friendship with a handsome classmate that could change everything. – IMDB

Following the events of The Kissing Booth (review), The Kissing Booth 2 resumes after a summer of Elle and Noah being together and they have to part ways because of Noah having to go to Harvard. Between juggling her emotions for Noah not being there, keeping herself busy, spending time with her best friend (and his girlfriend) and then trying to find money to fund possibly college in Boston without burdening her family and keeping her own secrets, Elle has quite a lot on her plate. Not only from Elle’s angle, The Kissing Booth 2 also focuses a little on Noah and Lee’s side. The Kissing Booth 2 is probably exactly as I’d expected it would go seeing as I still am wondering why I started it in the first place since I didn’t really enjoy the first one and not a huge fan of Elle’s character setup.

The whole world of The Kissing Booth 2 just always seem to have this missing thing that they aren’t hitting. This one tries to cover a lot of ground with different supporting characters and more conflicts. Its about friends and relationships and planning for the future. I just sometimes have this hard time believing that these characters and how they talk are teenagers in high school in this current day and age. Its a predictable sort of story and to be honest, this film was more enjoyable than the first because of one element and that’s the Second Lead Syndrome where I thought the new character and Elle’s new friend and dance partner that has some sparks, Marco portrayed by Taylor Zakhar Perez was fun and one of the better characters of this whole story. There seemed to be some good chemistry between the two of them especially in the dance competition part which was a lot of fun to watch overall. But then I have this deep love for Dance Dance Revolution so the whole Dance Mania competition was a highlight.

The Kissing Booth 2 is really nothing to call home about. I’d love to see Taylor Zakhar Perez in something else although it was announced that The Kissing Booth 3 is happening and was filmed back to back or something and just to finish this thing up, I’ll probably still check it out and cross my fingers that maybe the 2nd lead will get the girl (which probably won’t happen) but then I’m getting ahead of myself at this point. If you liked The Kissing Booth then you might like the sequel, if you didn’t, then maybe you are like me and found some joy with the second male lead and the dance competition.

Skyscraper (2018)

Skyscraper

Director (and writer): Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Hannah Quinlivan

A security expert must infiltrate a burning skyscraper, 225 stories above ground, when his family is trapped inside by criminals. – IMDB

Dwayne Johnson is definitely one of those actors that makes some fun and entertaining sort of action movies packed with one liners and just altogether a straightforward good time. The stories sometimes don’t have a ton of depth and are fairly predictable but if you already know what to expect then its almost always a decent little action romp. With that said, Skyscraper fits the bill of exactly what to expect. Set in a rather fictional Hong Kong (to anyone who knows the city well enough) in a fictional tall skyscraper, it might break the reality just a tad on that front as well as how ridiculously over the top a few of the action sequences are. For frequenters of Fast and the Furious franchise who has just been packed with these over the top unrealistic moments that people like to make Youtube videos to debunk how accurate it can be, Skyscraper is a usual deal especially when Dwayne Johnson’s character goes to jump off a crane to another building, there’s some strange physics going on there.

Its really hard to talk about movies likes these. On one hand, for serious moviegoers, its very obvious that there are a ton of flaws whether in shallow plot or some computer effects or even how some events flow and how certain scenes are structured. Its not going to be some award-winning movie. On the other hand, if you go by the standpoint of having exactly what is expected and for the mindless entertainment and some fun Dwayne Johnson moments, this is fairly harmless especially when a lot of his skyscraper moments involve duct tape, a common every day man trick which does keep the movie grounded a little more than expected.

Not to mention, Dwayne Johnson is accompanied by a supporting role by Neve Campbell who plays his wife in the movie. She actually has quite a useful point to make and actually speaks some decent Cantonese line. I always praise actors/actresses who are given these foreign lines and get it right on point. Although, that is definitely more of a personal thing. With that said, there are some good characters here plus I do usually enjoy Chin Han’s roles. Overall, Skyscraper was plain and simple a fun time. I acknowledge all the issues with it but at the same time, it was exactly what I needed when I chose to watch it.


That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two films? Thoughts?

Fantasia Festival 2020: A Mermaid in Paris (Une Sirène à Paris, 2020)

A Mermaid in Paris (Une Sirène à Paris, 2020)

a mermaid in paris

Director (and co-writer): Mathias Malzieu

Cast: Nicolas Duvauchelle, Marilyn Lima, Rossy de Palma, Tcheky Karyo, Romane Bohringer, Alexis Michalik

A man rescues a mermaid in Paris and slowly falls in love with her. – IMDB

Being a huge fan of Mathias Malzieu debut feature film Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart (review), A Mermaid in Paris was a must-watch. It would be interesting to see how Mathias Malzieu would approach doing a live-action film knowing the imagination that he is capable of. This fantasy romantic melodrama is an outstanding effort by Malzieu once again proving that his unique eye for the visuals as well as the use of an older era of fashion and fantastical color palette all blends incredibly well together with his creative imagination that all comes to life in such an appealing way.

A Mermaid in Paris

Being a musician before stepping into the director’s chair, Malzieu also uses soundtrack in a strong way to build up the character of the film. He injects Piaf’s song as well as other song choices to pair with the times. In this case, he also plays on the mermaids and the myth of the mesmerizingly deadly songs of the sirens. This builds up the romantic storyline of Gaspard, a man who falls in love easily and has had his heart broken so much he feels that he has no more love to give and struggling to hold onto his family’s business that holds memories of his mother and a place for performances, who saves a mermaid Lula (Marilyn Lima) who he is immune to her song. Their romantic connection grows gradually throughout the film and Lula becomes a character that wants to get back to sea soon but also has the fish out of water story element, that I’m a big fan of as it brings in a comedic element. The chemistry between Gaspard and Lula is undeniably beautiful.

A Mermaid in Paris

The comedic element is enhanced by a stellar performance of Rossy de Palma playing Gaspard’s neighbor Rossy in a second collaboration with Malzieu. Rossy is a unique character who guides both of them in her rather whacky ways but also plays as an assist. All the happy things here with romance and comedy has to be paired with some drama and adding in a threat to balance out all of this is a revenge story from the girlfriend of one of Lula’s victims. If there’s anything, this character Milena is a bit frustrating at times however she has her purpose.

A Mermaid in Paris is a cinematic treat. The rich color palette paired with the fantasy elements; the mermaid myth playing along on the romantic infatuation that creeps up between them to a surprising twist; the wonderful performances from the cast and the colorful characters: all comes together to create this beautiful experience. On top of that, Malzieu doesn’t even forget to give a nod to the animation style using the characters in this previous film in one of the scenes as a background element. There’s so much to love with Malzieu’s filming style and his seemingly love for telling stories about the life-threatening dangers of falling in love. Its a unique way of telling love stories and its this vision paired with his imagination that makes his films so fun to dive into.

Fantasia Festival 2020: I WeirDo (怪胎, 2020)

I WeirDo (怪胎, 2020)

I WeirDo

Director (and writer): Ming-Yi Liao

Cast: Nikki Hsieh, Austin Lin

This film is Asia’s first feature film shot on an iPhone, telling the story of two weirdos becoming a positive made by two negatives. – IMDB

In the current film landscape, unique romantic comedies are far and few. Most of the memorable ones in recent years have come out of streaming service with coming of age elements or the independent landscape. I WeirDo is one to add to that quirky romantic comedy/dramedy style coming out of Taiwan, somewhere that its cinema is much less known but thanks to Netflix, a lot more of Taiwanese cinema is landing in front of international audiences.

Written and directed by Ming-Yi Liao, the story revolved around two intensely obsessive-compulsive characters who end up meeting each other and falling in love. The cute moments of finding companionship in their “abnormality” breaks them each out of their own comfort zone to accept this less lonely way of living. Like most romantic comedies, things have to go a dramatic turn and for this one, OCD is a switch (it might not be in reality..I didn’t do any research) and one thing can switch it off and things can go back to normal but its different for everyone and in this case, falling in love is one of the pair’s triggers but becoming normal might be what pulls them apart. The film is less about the mental illness element of OCD but rather its about the definition of normal versus abnormal and the power and fragility of love itself as well as the power of companionship to have more courage to face the world outside. It also reminds us, despite the crazy times we’re living in now, that what we might consider normal is a challenge for others.

Shot with an iPhone, this film is fairly experimental. There is a certain meta element as the narrator shifts from the beginning with main guy Po-Ching (Austin Lin) who narrates a good half of the film until he goes back to normal and it switches over to main girl Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh). A lot of times they talk to the camera and narrate their story and what is going on. In that sense, it lessens their dialogue communication but leaves it mostly to their own actions. The cute elements are mostly in the first half as we see them challenging each other to their own limits to break out of their comfort zone and finding ways to spend more time together and the second half sees them transitioning into a life together and the third act is when things unravel. The execution is spot-on as the tone change is gradual and smooth. At the same time, the characters are very unique in their own quirky ways. They change each other naturally as they spend more time together. From the moment they meet, its already a lot of awkward chemistry going on that makes it hard to not look at their interaction. Kudos to Nikki Hsieh and Austin Lin for pulling off these performances including some fantastic outfits especially their giant raincoat and protective gloves and masks. Everything is thought out in detail and their outfits contrast each other. There’s something so awesome about Chen Ching’s big yellow raincoat with her sneakers look.

I WeirDo isn’t just a quirky romantic comedy. The build-up and the change in tone and the swapping of narrative voice as well as the character development all combines to be an impressive film. Especially in the thrid act when it pulls a surprising twist which is visually appealing and then wraps up the film with space for contemplation. I WeirDo is different in the sea of romantic comedies and its one that comes highly recommended.

TV Binge: Skate Into Love (冰糖炖雪梨, 2020)

Skate Into Love (冰糖炖雪梨, 2020)

Skate into Love

Director: Yui Bun Chu

Cast: Steven Zhang, Janice Wu, Lijie Zhou, Vincent Wei, Jiunuo Han, Lei Zhang, Ziling Ding, Bo Cao, Tianyu Qin, Xuanlin He, Yue Chu, Eman Zhang,

A speed skating girl crosses paths with the ice hockey god of their school. Despite starting off on the wrong foot, they start on a journey to chase after their dreams. – MyDramaList

Where to Watch: Youtube

STORY

Skate Into Love is the second series in the Honey Trilogy adapted from novel of the same name by Jiu Xiaoqi (the first was Ashes of Love. You can see my review HERE). Its essentially a sports and romance drama about a bunch of youths chasing after their ice sports dreams and trying to beat the impossible and get into the next Olympics in speed skating, hockey and figure skating. Chinese Olympians and professional athletes were hired in the production to choreograph the moves to keep it realistic as well as the cast had to take lessons to perform their own skating. Some things a tad over exaggerated like the scene above where if an arena’s partitions could break and shatter with a player checking another one. That’s just nitpicking obviously.

Its a breath of fresh air every once in a while to see series that is about something other than solely romance. In this one, its about chasing dreams while also showcasing the different successes ice sports have achieved over the years since they did cast some Olympians into the show as cameo roles and they had consultation to keep the series grounded and realistic. Chasing dreams and perseverance is a big backdrop here even if the characters do have their own little family dramas and complicated friendships and other competitions. There are love triangles and different romantic connections as well but it never loses focus that the premise revolves are these charming characters finding strength in each other whether as teammates in a hockey team or competing against each other as an anchor to be better or even finding the inner confidence to rekindle the love with a sport and balancing its importance and other elements in life.

LENGTH/PACING

Episodes: 40
Length of episodes: 35 mins

For 40 episodes, Skate Into Love manages to have a great pacing. It sets up where these athletes are at when the story starts especially with a focus on female main character Tang Xue and her speed skating dream that she had to give up because of an injury in high school and because of this, her family’s opposition to her choosing this career for something more steady career path. As she meets again her elementary school friend and current university hockey team leader Li Yu Bing and work through their past issues and gradually become friends and have romantic feelings for each other, she also encounters figure skating university athlete Yu Yan who she treats like a brother and defends him because of his more timid and introvert personality and breaks him out of his protected environment to show him the world that he is missing which leads him to be a love interest.

The story focuses on Tang Xue but as her friendships and teammates expands into those characters friends and dreams, it builds up on each of the tangent to help build up these characters properly along with the things that are important to them and the sacrifices they will do for their dream and for each other. Its about relationships, dreams and friendship. Like most dramas, life isn’t fair and is rather complicated and yet while staying in the realm of the focus of this story, it doesn’t forget to also create great moments between each of these characters and how they help each other to move forward and the struggles they have to work through their own inner struggles of being an athlete as well as the difficulties they face from outside influences. Each issue and success in the development is timed well and each character development and relationship build-up also blends well with the flow of the story to make these characters more likable. There are sweet and happy moments and there are sad and nerve-wrecking challenges, just like how life normally is.

The deal is that the show works through each of these three leads and their own ice sports focus and the path they need to take. The structure is set up very clearly and that’s why the pacing also works smooth.

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

Li Yu Bing (Steven Zhang) & Tang Xue (Janice Wu) & Yu Yan (LiJie Zhou)

I have to say that Janice Wu is one of my favorite Chinese actresses. Her acting skills is able to embody this strength in each of her character whether its the stubbornness or perseverance and also manages to give quite a bit of depth, just like layers that they peel back to see her character having a tough side but also a rather sweet and shy side when in love. There’s also this loyalty to her friends. That’s the charm of the character of Tang Xue that she portrays. Paired up with each of these male leads, it has a different dynamic. The difference in this story is that her love trajectory, other than her high school crush that shows up again to try to break up her and Li Yu Bing all the time out of jealousy (which I will talk about in a later section), her heart is loyal to her current love Li Yu Bing that starts like most dramas on an “enemy” stance which she never quite understands how it happens. When the childhood friendship blends with her present, it shows another side of her character. Steven Zhang and Janice Wu gradually starts off in a more comedic pranking each other sort of manner and eventually, their chemistry also grows throughout the series from sweet moments to a couple that you can root for because both of these characters may be flawed but have great characteristics that make them incredibly likable plus together they make each other better.

Add in the equation of Yu Yan, his character lives in a closed world that expands because he meets Tang Xue. Lijie Zhou does a good job also in taking on this role. His character has the cute and timid title of a “little sheep” because he is rather naive and doesn’t know much about the world around him, lacks decisiveness and is controlled by his mother in order to push him to be a successful figure skater. As his character grows, he loses his focus and ends up struggling through an inner battle and things spiral out of control. His story is one that focuses on friendship and support network in a sport that is a very lonely fight that maybe doesn’t need to be that lonely. A solid second male lead that I enjoyed watching. He wasn’t frustrating but at the same time, he was a naive character to say the least that went through a phase of growing up from experiencing a lot of first times that “normal” young adults at his age would have if his world wasn’t revolving around strict training.

The dynamic between these three character is also a huge anchor in Skate Into Love and it works well together.

Sports Team and Teammates

With sports series, its important to talk about teams and teammates dynamic. Coming from Montreal, hockey is in the blood of everyone here so Skate Into Love having a focus on a university hockey team is a big part of the attraction to the series alone. The team here is actually focused heavily on three of the characters: Li Yu Bing who plays the captain, his best buddies and roommates, Jiang Shi Jia (Bo Cao) and goalie Deng Jian Guo (Zihe Jin). The hockey team dynamic is actually rather fun since they go through the phase of transition between leaving university team to moving to a professional team and contemplating their future.

Speed skating team where Tang Xue is also shares a huge focus on dynamic. The other character that hasn’t been mentioned yet would be a girl who has a crush and great friends with Li Yu Bing who is the champion speed skater in their team that she chooses to pick as the goal to beat in order to boost her own time in order to stay on the team. Its a group effort of working together even if speed skating is a solo sport. They find a different friendship dynamic which progresses throughout the series.

Teammates and sport shows heavily focuses on sportmanship and thats the great dynamic that these characters are able to show. Its a different kind of chemistry between these friends and teammates.

Liao Zhenyu (Tianyu Qin) & Xia Menghuan (Xuanlin He)

The happy fountain goes to the supporting roles of Tang Xue’s best friends. One from high school who ends up sharing the information of Tang Xue’s loyalty and personality and the other is her university roommate. These two get together fairly quickly as a couple. They act both as friends support system as well as the comedy and happy elements in this series. Their relationship and how these two interact is very sweet and cute. At the same time, these two characters do stand out since it helps sooth over some of the more dramatic parts.

Bian Cheng (Vincent Wei) & Zhou Ran (Yue Chu)

Love interests and characters that get more and more extreme in their negative emotions are usually the frustrating elements of any TV series. I do say that some of this does occur. Bian Cheng and Zhou Ran both have their own revelations to get through and they bond because of their own warped desires that end up showing their selfish natures instead of truly loving the people they are trying to get while setting up situations to break up Tang Xue and Li Yu Bing. These two go through quite the vengeful trail that becomes frustrating because its stemmed from a lot of unnecessary emotions that they just get stuck in most of the time and they don’t see losing themselves in the process and losing sight of their value, making themselves having some unpleasant consequences in the end. Definitely not my favorite characters but they are necessary to create friction in a series that is fairly fun to watch in general.

OVERALL

Skate Into Love is an outstanding Chinese drama. Its not only because it focuses on youths chasing their dreams and making their own sacrifices and trials and tribulations and all the sweat and fatigue that goes into being a professional athlete. In any series, its about balance and Skate Into Love has a good view of this. It has a lot to do with director Yui Bun Chu who really has a great eye of how each scene is portrayed. Moving away from Ashes of Love which is a more dramatic and fantasy love story and taking on the second separate story which is more sweet and light-hearted but with a very meaningful sport series element, its executed very well. Whether its the characters and dialogue or balancing between drama, comedy and sweet romance, everything is very on point. Its a ton of fun to watch and one that is incredibly bingeworthy.

With that said, Yui Bun Chu is also helming the final series in this Honey trilogy which seems like it will group back all four leads of Ashes of Love and Skate Into Love to create another story set more in the fantasy realm again. Its one to look forward to for sure.

MAIN THEME

TV Binge: Unrequited Love (橘生淮南·暗恋, 2019)

Unrequited Love (橘生淮南·暗恋, 2019)

unrequited love2019

Cast: Zhao Shun Ran, Zhu Yan Man Zi, Zhang Yi Chi, Rain Shen, Chen Meng Qin, Zhang Zhe Hao, Yuan Bai Zi Hui, Esther Chen, He Mei Xuan, Huang Shi Chao, Li Jin Zhe

A story revolving around two students, Huai Nan and Luo Zhi, who immediately hit it off when they meet in university, but a message from an ex complicates things. Furthermore, Huai Nan discovers that Luo Zhi has been harboring a secret crush on him since their younger days. Luo Zhi has been caught in a one-sided love with Huai Nan for over ten years as she acts in a monodrama of her own creation. Her feelings towards Huai Nan are complicated, fueled by an honest admiration for his excellence but also tainted with jealousy and hatred. While following Sheng Huai Nan, Luo Zhi is also admitted to the best university. Her one-sided love finally gets a new chapter when the two start getting close to each other, but reality hits hard and they undergo many trials. Will they finally be together? Who took Luo Zhi’s diary? Which one will prevail – love or family? – MyDramaList

Where to Watch: Netflix

STORY

Unrequited love 1

Unrequited Love is a story about secret high school crush by a introvert student who then becomes friends with her crush in university. She has to decide how to approach this to catch his attention through her knowledge of him. Unrequited Love has a solid story that is based on novel of the same name by Bayue Changan. What makes this story standout is that both of these characters have stronger personalities. Its about misunderstanding, persistence and courage to own up to feelings and letting yourself be vulnerable.

The story is rather melodramatic since unrequited love is almost always an upward trek of unfruitful outcomes but this story gives them a chance. At the same time, the story isn’t just about them but also the friendships and family around them and the influences and choices that each of these make that may make them question their approach to love for each other. What I like about it is that its not all about them. In fact, every couple or secret admirer or relationship has their own struggles and show a different type of relationship, one-sided or not and with different basis of what draws them to each other.

LENGTH/PACING

unrequited love 3

Episodes: 24
Length of episode: 35 mins (approx.)

Running at 24 episodes with normal episode lengths, Unrequited Love has a good pacing and execution as a whole. The frustration from all the melodrama is rather short in compared to if it was longer and dragged out. Every event moves through quickly from love to loss to misunderstandings to crushes, friends, school and family. Normally, dramas that take a long time to get their main characters together is somewhat of a drag, surprisingly, this one isn’t and a lot of it has to do with how these characters develop over the course of the series (but that’s further discussion in the next section). Series running at the 20+ episodes works the best because the story progresses fairly quickly. Here it starts off playing between the past and present between Luo Zhi’s observations and Huai Nan’s side of things. As the viewers, we get to see where their misunderstandings happen and start to see how as they become friends and care more for each other, their relationship and personality also changes for the better. The story is unique because of the unrequited love element but its done best because of the characters, which takes me to the next part.

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

Luo Zhi & Huai Nan

unrequited love 4

As a couple, Luo Zhi and Huai Nan are quite a good pairing. They are both more along the lines of living in their own world and then using their own ways to catch each other’s attention. Essentially their story is about communication, confidence and trust. What cam be frustrating is their lack of communication which leads to them getting into arguments as they always assume or guess.

As individual characters, Luo Zhi is more of a unique female lead. She is more stubborn (its a good thing) about what she wants as we see her find her value. She also has the most development from her high school days of hiding in the backdrop and just looking from afar, her university days starts off that way but ends up giving her switch around where she stands up for herself. One of the best parts is when her high school past that she is trying to keep secret is revealed and used against her and Huai Nan doesn’t believe her or the person that he has grown to know and also insisting for Huai Nan to confirm his feelings for her and not always have him want the confirmation that she likes him. It might seem like a petty difference but its little details that give Luo Zhi her standout points.

Jiang BaiLi/ Ge Bi/ Gu ZhiYe/Chen MoHan

unrequited love4

Baili and Ge Bi are a different type of relationship and unrequited love as right from the start, its very one-sided. Baili does everything for Ge Bi but his heart just isn’t there and in the end, it lingers in the realm of questions whether its a regret or not for him. Much like the previous pairing, the entrance of the other love interest characters is what stimulates and pushes Baili to face those issues and move forward. Her character is one that balances Luo Zhi because she’s a more extrovert and caring character and one that is easy to love. There is a naivety to her personality as well as her directness. Her character finds revelation and ends up changing the outlook for Gu ZhiYe, an older guy who pursues her for ulterior motives but (of course) ends up falling for her which also has issues when all the schemes come to life. Their

Ding ShuiJing & Luo Yang

unrequited love3

Luo Zhi’s high school friend, Ding ShuiJing in some twist of events ends up meeting Luo Zhi’s cousin Luo Yang who is already in a long-term stable relationship but they connect because of their idealistic views and art. ShuiJing’s love is also another version of unrequited as she likes Luo Yang enough to move anywhere to see him but he isn’t ready to give up on his stability and the image to family and responsibility to the current relationship.  Their romance is slightly tedious to watch, just like ShuiJing’s character design which is not bad in comparison to Luo Yang’s but she also plays the part of Luo Zhi’s friend who forcibly believes that she is her best friend when the other doesn’t really admit to it and because of this, ends up creating another issue. This pairing is not the most fun to watch but they also is the sub-sub relationship so in the spectrum of the series, it doesn’t have too much effect.

Friends & Family

unrequited love 2

The best elements in Chinese drama is that they have a good focus on outside elements. In this case, Huai Nan’s is mostly with his 5 other roommates. They live in a huge dorm and each one of them, while not all equally a lot of screen time or backstory, altogether are rather entertaining. Of the five, his best friend is MingRui who is the bridge of how Luo Zhi meets Huai Nan but also goes through a lot of unrequited love of his own as timing is his worst enemy. However, much like a lot of other characters by the actor Zhang Yi Chi portraying him, he has somewhat of a comedic relief for the most part. While Luo Zhi’s friendships are a lot simpler with roommate BaiLi, high school friend ShuiJing and university friend Mingrui being her own rocks that she confides in to various levels. BaiLi being the one that has the most story and development.

Family plays a big part between Huai Nan and Luo Zhi’s relationship and that’s meant to be a twist at the end that if you watch Luo Zhi’s few interactions with her mom, its easy to see where its going fairly quickly.

OVERALL

Unrequited Love is something of a forgotten child or maybe more a neglected child in the world of Chinese drama. Its considered something of a failure which I think is rather harsh since it didn’t seem like a whole lot of promotion of given to it in the first place and then this year, we’re expected to get a second adaptation with a more popular set of cast, bumping down any traction from this one and creating a big confusion between this and the upcoming version.

In reality, Unrequited Love does a good job and does have a good cast even if they aren’t as popular, but its rather expected as China produces a lot of TV series and also promotes a lot of new series with new young actors. Its a bit sad that this series didn’t get the amount of exposure it should have considering it did hit Netflix as a Netflix Series and isn’t available on Youtube. Its characters are designed and developed really well and in the scope of 24 episodes, the pacing is great. There are some rather dramatic parts but then, its nothing compared to some of the other series that I’ve seen. Plus, the female characters are done really well and not as typical (in my opinion).

**As an extra thought, I honestly don’t see how a new cast will breathe new life into this story especially knowing who the cast is. It might get more traction because of the male lead’s popularity. But its updated to air in September 2020 on Mango TV so that’s right around the corner so maybe it will surprise me.**

TV Binge: Find Yourself (下一站是幸福, 2020)

Find Yourself (下一站是幸福, 2020)

Find Yourself

Cast: Victoria Song, Wei Long Song, David Wang, Yu Jian Zhang, Esther Yu, Katherine Yang, Miles Wei, Elaine Tong, Jocelyn Zhou

He Fan Xing’s company is at risk of being acquired while her relationship with Yuan Song faces societal pressures due to their age difference. The consecutive blows in her work and love life push her to an emotional quagmire and it is during this time that Ye Lu Ming enters her life. Being older in age, he is mature, stable and knowledgeable. He becomes He Fan Xing’s life coach and the source of conflict between the couple. For He Fan Xing, it’s not merely a matter of choosing the man that she loves but considering the contradictions of adopting the traditional mindset on marriage. – MyDramaList

Where to Watch: Netflix

QUOTES/SCENE

Yuan Song (YS): Almost there! Almost there!
Fan Xing (FX): How long?
YS: Right away. Just a few steps.
FX: Where are we going?
YS: We’re there!
FX: Wow!
YS: Looking at night scenery doesn’t count as creative but when I spend a lot of money, you have pressure. Not spending money and making you happy, I didn’t have time to prepare.
FX: You noticed?
YS: When you filled up my fridge, I already noticed.
FX: What else did you notice?
YS: I noticed that today you are exceptionally pretty, does that count?
FX: *laughs*
YS: What are you laughing at? Was I really weird just now? Did my eyes not attract you? Online, it said that when you look at someone up close, they will be attracted to you. ..Stop laughing. Is it that funny?
FX: It tickles. Stop, stop! *hugs*
YS: I wish that time would stop.
FX: Being in love (relationship) is so good. We can happily make cups together, can go see movies, look at night scenery, have sweet talk and huge each other next to the river. You’ve already made reality all my imaginations about being in love. No regrets now!
YS: You shouldn’t be easily satisfied. You should keep making a lot of requests to me or else I’m scared that I’ll be proud.

STORY

Find Yourself takes a somewhat different approach to the romance drama love story as it tells the story of the love story between a management level lady in her early 30s and an intern 10 years younger. In many ways, this story is a topic very heavily discussed especially in China.

Find Yourself

It takes on various topics/discussions about whether the person you choose to get married should be someone that you love or someone that’s suitable to you (as in their social status/achievements/age, etc.). Its also the concept of whether respecting your parent’s appearance to others and all the other things needed to be done to be considered a filial daughter when you choose someone that will cause a lot of debate. In reality, its a fun topic to look at because the story actually gives the female lead this “stubborn” view of her ideal relationship and insisting on following her heart which is why at 32, she still hasn’t had a relationship, making this first time full of stumbles and bad decisions when she dates the younger intern as her idealistic self is met with some realistic concerns that causes them to break apart (as expected in these series) and to choose to give up her idealistic relationship bar and try to be with a man who is suitable for her. The story direction and premise is a good one to say the least and the execution is decent for the most part however these dramas are always a tad predictable and some of the events were a little unbelievable.

LENGTH/PACING

Find Yourself

Episodes: 41
Episode length: approx 40 mins.

Any dramas hitting the 40+ episode mark is a little tricky. It always has a little too much of something here and there but seeing as a lot of Chinese dramas hit the 50+ episode marks, 41 episodes isn’t too bad. The fortunate thing for Find Yourself is that it uses its time well. It establishes quickly its main couple, Fan Xing (Victoria Song) and Yuan Song (Wei Long Song) and then give them problems that make them question their relationship around the halfway point. At the same time, the story also establishes quite early on the different elements of family, friends as well as work colleagues and focuses on the relationships between these people to create the different dynamic and uses each of those supporting plot lines well. I’ll talk about each of the relationships in the next section but in essence, the story focuses on one love triangle, three groups of friends, a few families as well as one other main relationship and one supporting one. It sounds like its really full but it actually changes between these scenarios and then flows rather well. It also helps that the dialogue and character development as the story moves along is pretty good that it all wraps up in a satisfying ending for all the characters.

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

Romantic Relationship

He Fan Xing (Victoria Song) & Yuan Song (Wei Long Song)

find yourself

The casting for Victoria Song and Wei Long Song is really good. In reality, their age difference is also rather similar to their characters that they portray making it even easier to believe the two of them. On top of that, they are natural in their roles and its believable when they are together and even after their break-up and still thinking of each other and adjusting to the new norm, the dynamic between them shifts and it helps their characters develop. Its what gives so much to the characters of  Fan Xing and Yuan Song when they finally (inevitably) get drawn back together. This time, its with the courage that they should have. In reality, the show gives them both space for Fan Xing to be more brave to follow her heart and not settle and force to do something that against her own beliefs and for Yuan Song to be more mature about his approach and understanding towards Fan Xing’s standpoint.The chemistry between the two is incredibly good and it has a lot to do with the many scenes (as unreal as it might feel, because I’ve seen discussions about this online) setup and structures.

He Chan Yang (Zhang Yu Jian) & Cai Min Min (Esther Yu)

Find Yourself

A flip side of the main relationship is a later developed story line between Fan Xing’s brother Chan Yang who gets pursued by his quirky and over the top student, Cai Min Min who previously was pursuing actively Yuan Song. Her character plays two fold  and in the second half, when Chan Yang agrees to be in a secret relationship with her, things get complicated because of the teacher-student element as well as the age difference. For them, it brings up the point of how people have double standards in society about men dating 10 year younger girls versus women dating 10 years younger men. That’s just an aside as these two are a different dynamic altogether. Their personalities are both more outgoing and actually they each have their own quirkiness and they both brave in their own way to embrace their relationship once they become more stable. Still, it becomes finding the balance of power between being a dominating and more teacher character for Chan Yang or being a boyfriend toward Cai Min Min. These two also have great chemistry but in a different way.

I’m not going to lie that I’ve seen Esther Yu and Yu Jian Zhang before in other TV series (in separate TV series, not as a couple) however these two are really fun to watch all the time. They do get cast in very similar character types but they also can carry their scripts and present those characters really well. They definitely were a ton of fun to watch in this one.

Cong Xiao (Katherine Yang) & Chang Huan (Miles Wei)

Find Yourself

The previous two was more of a main romance where this pair is also a different angle in a more supporting love story as they are best friends and colleagues with different views on love and because of that doesn’t embrace their feelings right away but works hard to get the girl. Their story drags out a little and flails around as they both find their footing but somehow, these story was one side of the characters and chemistry that I liked a lot and worth a mention.

Friendship/Family/Love Interests

Friendship plays a big part here and in reality, the script for the drama seems to focus a lot on the different friendships through different age groups and the things they are going through, mostly relationship-wise. Fan Xing’s two girlfriends have great communication together as they protect each other just like Cai Min Min’s two best friends who also analyze the situation different from them. You can see the script seeing them deal with different stages in life and having to face different problems from cheating husbands to deciding between a future of marriage and kids. Each of these have their concerns at their own age and their own views, giving them their value in the show.

Find Yourself

One of the better friendships to show up is from its love interests. Cai Min Min being Yuan Song’s previous love interests and ends up in a similar situation to his previous secret romance with Fan Xing and finding their discussions to be reflective on both his characters and hers as their opinions start to flip around. At the same time, Fan Xing’s trial to be in a relationship with her suitable choice, Lu Ming (David Wang) always started with a friendship between the two that was much more suitable. Their dynamic being much better when they were interacting as friends than when they were trying to be together with a goal of getting married. In fact, Lu Ming’s chase game for Fan Xing and his big game plan actually was a lot more fun to watch.

Find Yourself

In terms of family, its a huge highlight and probably one of the strengths of the show aside from the romantic elements. Fan Xing’s family in particular focuses on this fun sibling love/rivalry and the parents are very comedic to say the least and actually different from typical Chinese parents in some ways. They had some great moments as well as some great script.

OVERALL

Find Yourself

Find Yourself is a decent Chinese drama. It has a lot to thank for its outstanding cast and gives so much unique life to its characters. It also has a diverse topics of discussion and web of intertwined relationships of romance, sibling, friends, colleagues, schoolmates and family that all play a part in the story its trying to tell. Its about secret relationships and views in the eyes of others as well as age gaps in relationships. There’s enough character development throughout. The first half is a lot more fun to watch than the second half which is a bit more dramatic in probably the third quarter. Luckily, it still remembers those comedic and awkward moments to keep it more light and fluffy. TV series are meant to bring joy especially dramas in this sort of romance, friendship and family area. There’s a few episodes or moments that feel like it drags out but it does quickly find it again. Can I say that other than my obvious love for Esther Yu and Yu Jian Zhang, I’m finding a love for Victoria Song and Wei Long Song and both of them are really popular now with the former being on a good few variety shows lately and the latter having one TV series recently finished airing (I think) and probably one more series to be released.

MAIN THEME

The Half Of It (2020)

The Half of It (2020)

the half of it

Director (and writer): Alice Wu

Cast: Leah Lewis, Alexxis Lemire, Daniel Diemer, Becky Ann Baker, Catherine Curtin, Collin Chou, Wolfgang Novogratz

When smart but cash-strapped teen Ellie Chu agrees to write a love letter for a jock, she doesn’t expect to become his friend – or fall for his crush. – IMDB

In the mass of Netflix Originals that gets released in a year, every once in a while, we find some hidden gems. While coming of age films are rather formulaic in many ways, The Half of It is unique in its own way as it packs in a lot of layers of teen issues altogether as well as immigrant family struggles. All these elements combines with a balanced execution focus on coming of age mixed in with bits of romance and friendship. If we think about this in similarities, the story here is similar to Sierra Burgess is a Loser (review), except you trade out physical insecurities with  some other issues like LGBT and immigrant family issues. The things that stand out in Sierra Burgess actually work really well here as well, like the friendship element between Ellie and Paul as well as her interaction with her father. 

The Half of It really works because of its cast that brings to life these well-written characters. Each of them presenting their different characteristics in a believable and charming manner, even behind their many awkward moments which adds to the humor. Leah Lewis plays the main character of Ellie Chu who keeps to herself and breaks her rules when she decides to help “edit” (but really write) a love letter for Paul (Daniel Diemer), a jock with rather undesirable writing skills, because she coincidentally needed the money. And yet, sometimes these perfect coincidences presents itself as a blessing in disguise when she bonds this unexpected friendship both with Paul and as the voice for Paul to appeal to Aster (Alexxis Lemire). Its the awkwardness moments that work well here whether its Ellie and Paul or when Paul interacts with Aster on their little dates. At the same time, like mentioned before, one of the highlights is between Ellie and her father (Collin Chou) who usually is known for his villainous and action roles in Asian cinema. The father element plays a decent part in the story and it makes this story always centered around Ellie which makes it truly her coming of age story and never loses sight of that.

The Half Of It might seem like a familiar tale in its execution but it also is unique because of the different issues that it tackles. Perhaps its because its about a Chinese immigrant family that it relates better to myself that it also strikes a chord and the family element here plays out really well. Or perhaps its the portrayal of Ellie Chu that really is quite appealing even though she doesn’t seem to find the same confidence in herself but actually finds it as she confides in Paul while helping him subconsciously building their friendship. While there is an unrequited love element there and teen romance that never quite gets a lot of resolution, it seems like the story is never quite about that but actually manages to create a fairly positive and sweet ending despite of it. All these elements makes The Half Of It such a charming coming of age movie. While I’ve never seen Alice Wu’s previous work Saving Face, I do hope that it won’t take her over a decade before making a new movie as she has quite a decent vision as a director and writer that it would be interesting to see what other stories she will tell in the future.

TV Binge: Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜, 2018)

Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜, 2018)

ashes of love

Director: Yui Bun Chu

Cast: Andy Yang, Allen Deng, Leo Luo, Adonis Liao, Zhi Yuan Xia, Faye Wang, Ting Wei Zhou, Yukee Chen, Kathy Chow, Bella Du, Yang Peng, Run Jun Wang, Zhong Hua He

In ancient times, the Flower Goddess dies after giving birth to a daughter. Before she passed, she fed her daughter the Unfeeling Pill, ordered her subordinates to keep the girl’s birth story a secret and to imprison her within Shui Jing for 10,000 years. The girl’s name is Jin Mi. 4,000 years later, the Heavenly Emperor’s second son, Xu Feng, was entrapped by someone and mistakenly entered Shui Jing. He was saved by the ignorant Jin Mi. After living together for 100 years, Xu Feng gradually developed feelings for Jin Mi. Someone close to them wants to use those feelings for their own benefit. – MyDramaList

Where to watch with English subtitles (as at March 25, 2020): Netflix Canada & Youtube

QUOTE/SCENE

Jing Mi: That one’s so ugly. Why did you bring it here also?
Phoenix: I feel that one is the most beautiful of all the Phoenix lanterns, because it contains our memory.
Jing Mi: This is the memory of Saint Girl and King Yi. [pause] What a beautiful view!  It’ll be great if we can drink some self-made osmanthus wine. In fact, before I descended to the mortal world, I buried some osmanthus wine I made here.
Phoenix: I dug it out several days ago. Let’s try  your wine today. [next scene] The wine you made is indeed savory and mellow.
Jing Mi: I must have some skills amongst the six realms. Why are you staring at me like that?
Phoenix: Its great that I don’t have to look at you through the veil.
Jing Mi: Isn’t it beautiful?

STORY

ashes of love phoenix jingmi

Ashes of Love is essentially a love story and its where it thrives at its best. Much like the structure of 2017’s Eternal Love (review) and background, this one is set a little different  in the actual fairy world where this one has six realms however, the Sky realm is still the highest one (as it usually is) and the story resides in these different deity/fairy ranging from flowers to nocturnal creatures to celestial creatures and all kinds of animals and even inanimate objects. In terms of creativity, the story is full of them and that is one of the many highlights of this one and can bring so much fun to this as it makes for some leaps of beliefs but in a fantasy world like this one, its more about learning about it first. And that is a lot of the charm especially as it starts off fairly light-hearted and fun.

The realms here are really where the many past dilemmas have ignited from the past generation between the Floral Goddess, Heavenly Emperor, Water Immortal and all the other people linked to them. Its created essentially what happens to Jing Mi to have been given the Unfeeling Pill when she was born to prevent her from meeting her curse of love with the first 10,000 years of her life, which ends up being the catalyst of all the events that end up happening as misunderstandings happen as the truth unfolds. But that said, each of these realms of the three focused on among the six is different in its own way and has its own traits reflective of the place but yet still has their own good and evil characters.

ashes of love war

At the end of all this, between war and feuds and misunderstandings and realm battles for power, it all dials down to the romance and the love triangle between Jing Mi, Phoenix and Runyu instigated by jealousy and unfairness on one end and then creating revenge and hatred, making things worsen. Its all a story of the basic philosophy and belief in Chinese that what is meant to happen will happen regardless of how you plan on changing its course, that act alone is also destined to happen. Also goes along with you reap what you sow at the end of the day especially as what is given off from one generation can affect its next. Its all very common plot points and themes in ancient Chinese fantasy TV series as Eternal Love has about the same kind of plot point (as an example since its the other one in the same genre). What does work here is that once you get past those similar plot points and embrace what they do different in building this new world and its characters, Ashes of Love has a stronger bond with its love story and leads (for myself) whereas in comparison, Eternal Love is entertaining well-rounded but perhaps didn’t quite connect as much in terms of the main leads and their love story. I don’t mean to compare but I did watch them almost back to back.

ashesashes2

Before we jump to pacing, I need to mention that the costume designs here are really nice. There’s a lot of thought of each one from the Birds Realm to the colorful Flower Realm to the dark Demon realms outfits as as well as the gold and white and more royalty colors in the Heavenly Realm. Its one of the elements that make me love watching Chinese Fantasy TV series. The costumes and the hair ornaments and hair styles are just so beautiful! While I’m talking about this, I do have to mention that when they do close-ups of the props, fake flowers and such, it is pretty apparent, maybe one of the lesser elements of this series. But then, I guarantee you that there is one “sex” scene in this (its public TV so nothing explicit) and its filmed so poetically and beautiful that I was really impressed by the whole thing especially when you remember the true forms of the leads on hand.

LENGTH/PACING

ashes of love jingmi

Episodes: 63
Episode length: 40-45 mins approx.

Its incredible how long Chinese TV series are sometimes especially these big production Chinese fantasy ones. Ashes of Love is surprisingly long at 63 episodes and yet, the script is done so well that the story progresses in phases that gives time for each stage of these characters to grow and develop individually and together in their different relationships, friendships, family, brothers, etc. It doesn’t take a break from this other than maybe the secondary couple from the demon realm which ends up being a rather touching story as well by the end.

Looking at the phase, the first part (as I mentioned) before is about the meeting between Phoenix and Jing Mi and her introduction from the Flower Realm to the Heaven Realm and gradually the reveal of her true identity as well as her growing relationship in their few hundred years as the helper and disciple of Phoenix. As her true identity gets revealed, it jumps into the next phase of the story where it shares about the past and the characters involved and what actually happened, throwing the hatred of the Heavenly Empress and her desire to split up Jing Mi and Phoenix while Phoenix’s brother, Runyu gets pulled into the mix and he learns about his mother and it builds on his revenge and his plot slowly conspire. Things gets more messy here as this also get intermitted with Jing Mi’s mission to become an immortal by going to the Mortal Realm to experience the suffering of mortal life to gain knowledge where she ends up connecting with her feelings more as a turn of events takes Phoenix to have a rather intense romance. Finally, the third phase appears after all the plots of phase 2 unravels and Jing Mi unexpectedly breaks the Unfeeling Pill’s effects and realizes her real feelings and makes up for her mistakes to Phoenix. That turns into the most painful, emotional and heartbreaking moments of search and hopelessness and this last part is just such a ode of how the beginning builds up its characters and relationships so well that this part ends up working a lot. (I mean, I bawled my eyes out a ton in the last 8-10 episodes or something)

CHARACTERS/CHEMISTRY

Leads: Jing Mi & Phoenix

ashes of love phoenix jingmi 1

Ashes of Love takes a lot of time and attention on building these two characters. Its great because the focus never quite leaves them even when they are apart and doing their own thing. There’s a lot of factors that work here. The first is that its not dubbed voices and the actual actors are voicing these characters because both Andy Yang and Allen Deng are really talented actors and in their respective roles as Jing Mi and Xu Feng (aka Phoenix, as I keep referring to him), they are incredibly convincing and hard to not ship them, to be honest. These two characters are strong individually as they both have their own family, relationship and realm issues to deal with and consider in all their choices and their own secrets to uncover. Its what makes their love story so heartbreaking and bittersweet altogether because each of their own issues and it all comes down to Jing Mi and the Unfeeling Pill that stops her from realizing her own feelings until its too late which makes their relationship take a very heartbreaking turn of events. The chemistry between these two characters are fantastic especially in some scenes of how the director uses close-ups to the dialogue around them where they both are able to act with their eyes and interpret some genuine feelings without saying anything.

Brothers & Family Feud: Phoenix & Run Yu

ashes brothers

All royalty has their own conflicts and Phoenix’s family is the Heaven realm’s family which creates all kinds of crazy as the Heaven Emperor reveals to be a rather unloyal man where his past creates the Empress’s hate and jealousy making a lot of issues become unfair to the older son, Runyu the Night Immortal. What starts off as a rather good brother relationship despite the parent issues ends up turning sour as Runyu’s character ends up having a subtle villain type of change full of plot and schemes, creating this character that flips from the nice guy at the beginning.

Love Interests, Villains & Other Characters of Interest

Love Interests for Jing Mi is mostly Runyu as well as some other characters that don’t really have too much to mention however the main villains of the series is one, the Heaven Empress, aka Phoenix’s mother (as mentioned before because of jealousy) and the second is Phoenix’s “cousin”/crush who likes him a lot and believes she is the one destined for him and does increasingly evil acts. The two villains in the end are the main cause of Phoenix’s “demise”. Everything comes in full circle in Chinese philosophy and nothing proves it quite like how TV series stories work. You can’t say these two villains don’t do a great job. Empress is portrayed by 90s Hong Kong TV actress Kathy Chow who does a fantastic job that its hard to not dislike the character much like Faye Wang as the love interest who plays on the more annoying side of things.

Of course, the more fun additions do go to the Green Snake and the other colorful character of the Flower Realm just like the Moon Immortal (Phoenix’s uncle) who are comedic but in desperate times, knowledgeable and contribute to the dilemma in their own ways. There’s a lot of characters in Ashes of Love so its hard to talk about all of it.

OVERALL

ashes phoenix

Ashes of Love is a really great series. Its one that takes its sweet time to move through its different story levels to gradually connect with each of these characters as they develop and learn about the different secrete in their life, especially with the main female character, Jing Mi. The magical elements and this new world and the possibilities gives it the space to believe in all the twists and turns and thats because its already given it such a creativity to begin with which also sparks some deeper thoughts on how certain plot points would work but never quite doubt its possibility, leaving space for the audience to draw their own conclusions. The different worlds have beautiful CG effects that make them unique as well as their own kingdom and rules as well as different worlds and their feuds with each other.

Aside from all that is crafting these characters that work so well on their own in complexity. Having 63 episodes to do it definitely feels like it would be a drag but it isn’t most of the time because these characters need it and its because of that, it makes especially Jing Mi and Phoenix’s story so much more emotional to watch whether its happy moments to the extremely heartbreaking moments. Fantastic series that makes me want to watch and rewatch and notice those little story plot details more.

MAIN THEME

Double Feature: Pitch Perfect 3 (2017) & What A Girl Wants (2003)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is a rather female character driven combo with the Barden Bellas final hurrah in Pitch Perfect 3 and Amanda Bynes in What A Girl Wants. It seems like a decent pairing, don’t you think?

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

pitch perfect3

Director: Trish Sie

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, John Lithgow, Matt Lanter, Guy Burnet, DJ Khaled, Ruby Rose

Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices. – IMDB

Pitch Perfect 3 has really just been riding on the success of its first film (review) but for myself, it feels pretty much like the Step Up franchise. In Pitch Perfect’s case, its all about the acappella musical elements and the charming cast of Bellas that come with it. Pitch Perfect 3 is a farewell movie and while the story itself is rather disposable as its yet another competition that they need to try to win but this time, its a little different because its about finding closure for all of the main players: Becca, Chloe, Amber, Amy as they move on with their lives from this family to each seeing those problems that make them who they are. Its a bit messy and brushed over quickly for all those involved, mostly because for most of them they never had tackled personal problems for these characters.

Looking at the cast here, which retains itself from the Barden Bellas of Pitch Perfect 2 (review) but as they exit their lives after university and the many struggles of finding their own identity and purpose after their success, each have their own path right from the start and of course, their own issues that make them want to go on this final hurrah for them to compete again together. In many ways, Becca has gone full circle from the beginning to the end of this film where she finally finds success in what she wanted at the start in some form but now its her loyalty to the Bellas that holds her back, a bit of a reverse situation. Bellas is a wonderful little group of friends as they are unique in their different ways and different backgrounds, nothing more apparent than in this one, even if it does piece it together oddly.

Of course, aside from the Bellas, we still have the supporting characters including the staple characters of Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins characters who have that additional comedic relief. On top of that adding in some other talent from DJ Khaled playing himself and a few side characters with Matt Lanter as the Bellas military guide and something of a bodyguard. The other groups competing for that one spot include Ruby Rose playing the lead singer of Evermoist. I remember that year, Ruby Rose ended up in three different movie sequels which was pretty fantastic as I love her style even if the Bellas were the main focus here. Of course, you also had John Lithgow sporting an Australian accent as Amy’s dad who “isn’t a very nice man”(quoting the line she uses to describe him).

Overall, Pitch Perfect 3 is quite a mixed basket but the musical elements are still there if you like these movies. The Bellas are still quite fun to watch and they get themselves into some serious trouble and Amy really steps up. At the same time, Its the right time to wrap this whole thing up and they do it really well in the credits with what looks like bloopers and extras from the production of the three movies together which is a nice path down memory lane.

What A Girl Wants (2003)

what a girl wants

Director: Dennie Gordon

Cast: Amanda Bynes, Colin Firth, Kelly Preston, Eileen Atkins, Anna Chancellor, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver James, Christina Cole

An American teenager learns that her father is a wealthy British politician running for office. Although she is eager to find him, she realizes it could cause a scandal and cost him the election. – IMDB

If you put together a dash of Mamma Mia (review) and then adds in a dose of The Princess Diaries, you will get something like What A Girl Wants but maybe a little less refined. Rightfully so because this was movie before Lovewrecked (review) earlier than the movie that I knew Amanda Bynes from, She’s All That. However, it does feel that Amanda Bynes always has that same type of character that she played really well in the 2000s teen movies that just seemed to work for her. Along with that, she did have Colin Firth playing her father with does boost this movie a little despite its rather run of the mill story.

With that said, Amanda Bynes plays Daphne, an American teenager who ends up reaching out to his British wealthy politician father who doesn’t know he exists. While she doesn’t want to lose her unique personality and herself in this new world, she soon realizes that to exist in her father’s world, she may have to in this part fish out of water story as well with adapting to some of the British terms and upper class etiquette. Colin Firth playing her father actually is an opposite type of character who is more reserved and contains his feelings and affection as well but soon also shows the side of him that Daphne’s mother loved, especially as the whole secret of who broke apart her parents in the first place comes to light and a few secret motives, that are actually quite obvious reveals itself.

There’s not a whole lot to say about What A Girl Wants. For people who like Amanada Bynes, this should fit the bill as its an earlier roles of more popular roles like She’s The Man but its still very much her style of humor and acting. At the same time, there are some very predictable moments and the script isn’t that great but it has some fun moments and Amanda Bynes’ character Daphne has some good empowering characteristics that I did like. Some good, some bad, I’d say its somewhere in the middle: pretty much one to save for a rainy day.

Thats it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two films?

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020)

You can check out my review of the book that this film is adapted from HERE.
You can also read the review of the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before HERE.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020)

To All The Boys P.S. I Still Love You

Director: Michael Fimognari

Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Jordan Fisher, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Holland Taylor, John Corbett, Sarayu Blue, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart

Lara Jean and Peter have just taken their relationship from pretend to officially official when another recipient of one of her old love letters enters the picture. – IMDB

Being a rather big fan of the books as well as absolutely adoring the movie, To All The Boys 2 has some big shoes to fill. And just like how I felt about the book sequel, I feel pretty much the same about this sequel. While the pink hearts and feel good moments are created rather well, what happens here in exchange for a more focused and fun coming of age teen romance in the first one is one that adds in a few too many tangents that never gets explored giving the characters not enough time to truly have more impact. For viewers like myself, the immense love for Lara Jean and Peter is memorable from the first film and can move onto the second film, but the second movie isn’t self-contained.

P.S. I Still Love You is supposed to dive into the growing up and insecurities of a relationship and while Lara Jean has those moments, it gets a little buried in her meeting John Ambrose and having some sweet moments and then Peter’s character falling into the background, which is supposed to be because of underlying issues with his ex-girlfriend Gen and then his obligations with school in preparation for college applications which never truly gets elaborated enough and what we get are just some sweet moment together with the two, and then some arguments as well. Adding in the plot with Stormy, which was a really great supporting character in the book, she also gets very little screen time here but still has that quirk and romance guidance element for Lara Jean. Then, there’s the dad finding his romance and squeeze all of this stuff into 100 minutes and it gets a little rushed.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

While execution of the story and possibly how the adapted screenplay might be a little lacking here, the characters are really charming. The cast from the first film, Lara Jean and Peter still have that chemistry that they have and for viewers and people like myself who loved the first movie, its great to see their relationship move from being fake to real and navigating through certain insecurities and awkwardness of facing this in a more serious way. Adding in the love interest reappearance and choosing Jordan Fisher to be John Ambrose is definitely a good choice. John Ambrose is a different kind of charming boy that enters into Lara Jean’s life. He is something of a clean slate that creates a comparison for Lara Jean. While some of the decisions she makes approaching John Ambrose might not be all that correct, her character is a teenage student in her first relationship and the reality and expectations and comparing the two comes into play as all kinds of factors come into play as she tries to figure out her feelings towards these two boys. It does fit her character design as in the first film, its already obvious that Lara Jean isn’t someone who takes risks easily and doesn’t quite understand her feelings too well.

To All The Boys 2 is not as strong as the first film, as expected with sequels. I’m still not decided whether having a script like this is good or whether they could have committed more to the love triangle at hand here. In the end, there were a lot of great and sweet moments whether its John Ambrose or Peter and Lara Jean and it does give space for other characters to have their own little developments but its both a good and bad thing. It doesn’t give time for too many unnecessary things to happen because it just doesn’t have time for it but at the same time, the story jumping through so many characters and giving them their own little developments also seems to be nice to see but also doesn’t give more time for their main leads. Good and bad, right? The good thing though is despite all that, they manage to wrap up the whole thing in a meaningful way and giving the whole sequel some substance. In the end though, To All The Boys has some nice chemistry and some good revelations for Lara Jean and in reality, it makes sure that the audience knows one thing: whether you are team Peter or team John Ambrose, its not really about them but the story is all about Lara Jean.