Song Shiqiao (Angelababy) is a shy college student who suffers from an autoimmune neuromuscular disease that requires constant medication and negligible physical activity. Her drugs wreak havoc with her memory, so she habitually records her thoughts and daily experiences onto cassette tapes in order not to forget her own life.
In one of the most annoying and illogical celluloid quasi-meet-cutes ever captured, Shiqiao randomly runs into Gong Ning (Mark Chao), her high school crush, and the film follows their blossoming relationship in two contrasting segments.
The first story (presented as Side A) takes Shiqiao's perspective and is as straightforward as it is saccharine. It is the story of first love, with its euphoria and its hiccups, though little happens to justify the romantic attachment that is unfolding. How is it that film characters fall in love so easily and without having experienced a singular conversation, let alone any demonstrable chemistry?
The cinematography during this portion of the film is often warm, bright and pointedly overexposed, which suggests the mood of a girl in love. But the charm of this approach is undermined by a tendency toward skewed camerawork, particularly during the dreadful "rock" performances, and the inclusion of far too many scenarios that are hammy, unbelievable and unfunny.
The second, longer story (presented as Side B) revisits the relationship's origin and development from Ning's point-of-view. This darker, more cynical section attempts to deconstruct—however superficially—the cinematic love affairs we've come to expect, and seems to use the adage "appearances are often deceiving" as its credo. This is an intriguing notion.
Unfortunately, First Time soon succumbs to the same mawkish, impractical conventions and plot machinations that generally define the romance genre. This discourtesy leaves the viewer feeling manipulated, and makes the incredulous plot twists, particularly the final one, feel offensive.
Had First Time followed through on its Side B thesis, moving toward a realistic rather than a tragically idealistic ending (i.e., it switches philosophical direction, becoming a moral tale about the need to live every day like it's your last), the film would have managed to say something original and to potentially expand its audience base.
First Time opens the Reel Asian Film Festival on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 at the Isabel Bader theatre at 7pm (Edko Films)