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Ambition sets “So Young” apart

Title: “So Young”

Director: Zhao Wei

Release date: June 14, 2013

Genre: Romance

Country: China

Rating: 3 out of 5

To give credit where credit’s due, “So Young,” a Chinese romantic comedy, works hard to separate itself from the crowd. It’s not quite a romantic comedy, or a drama, or a melodrama. It’s a blend of all three. Together, those genres can be hokey, and the movie certainly has hokey moments. But its commitment to those moments is fierce.

On the surface, “So Young” is your typical romance. Zheng Wei (Zishan Yang, “Battle of Memories”), an incoming freshman, arrives at her college. When she meets her three eccentric roommates, Ruan Guan (Shuying Jiang, “House of Wolves”), Li Weiyang (Yao Zhange, “Love, at First”) and Xu Kaiyang (Ryan Zheng, “Running Lover”), she discovers that college is nothing like she imagined it would be.

Truthfully, the plot is thin. It mainly focuses on Zheng’s relationship with Chen Xiaozheng (Mark Chao, “Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe”) with detours into other characters’ lives. It lacks the focus of the more adult “In the Mood For Love,” but compensates with the meandering spirit of “American Graffiti.” With such a large cast of characters, balancing stories is a question of thematic importance.

What’s important here is that everyone overreacts. Characters don’t talk so much as spar. Each interaction is a fight or, at the very least, a heated disagreement. That kind of manic energy is hard to maintain, even in a melodrama, and the movie does suffer for it. Characters’ relationships seem to change on a dime.

One minute, Chen loves Zheng, but the next, he shuns her. Can that momentum truly be contained? With director Wei’s religious adherence to melodrama, the answer is a resounding yes. It is so consistently over-the-top that it ceases to be weird. Wei imbues each confrontation with a restless longing, something genuine underneath the artifice. Truly, the movie is an escape in the purest terms.

Wei takes the movie, adapted from the Chinese novel “To Our Youth that is Fading Away” by Xin Yiwu, a step further. She includes character back stories and an epilogue where other romantic comedies would roll the credits.

However strange it sounds, “So Young” is immensely ambitious, and it mostly pays off. The clumsy exposition and ridiculous drama combine to make something fresh. All the same, the movie gets tired halfway through its two hour length. When every conversation is a shouting match, it’s hard to tell what’s truly important.

In the end, “So Young” is an interesting addition to the romantic comedy genre. It adheres to the genre’s tropes, but takes them a step further. Often, the plot veers gracelessly, and characters lack consistency, but damn if it isn’t a fun time. While Wei doesn’t reach the fantastical heights she aims for, it’s hard to deny that she gets close. If that’s not ambitious, I don’t know what is.

Written by Jacob Holley-Kline

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