Repeat goers make Our Times highest-grossing Taiwanese movie of all time in Singapore

Repeat moviegoers have helped make the coming-of-age film the highest-grossing Taiwanese movie of all time in Singapore

Ms Lim Ka Min loved the coming- of-age Taiwanese movie Our Times so much, she watched it a second time - alone.

"I don't want any one to judge me when I cry. I cried harder when I watched it again," says the 21-year-old student.

Repeat moviegoers like her have contributed to making Our Times the highest-grossing Taiwanese movie of all time in Singapore, with more than $3.5 million earned at the box office. The high school romance is television producer Frankie Chen's directorial debut.

Still screening at cinemas here, it surpasses the previous record of close to $3 million set by another Taiwanese youth romance You Are The Apple Of My Eye (2011).

It is also the second-highest grossing Chinese film this year, behind Jack Neo's movie Ah Boys To Men 3: Frogmen ($7.63 million).

Moviegoers tell Life that they could not get enough of the movie the first time around and went back for at least a second viewing.

  • I felt that I might have missed out on minor details that the director had planted in the movie. I only noticed certain things or understood the meaning behind the classic lines after the second, third viewing.’’

    NG SHI HAN, 29, A TEACHER, on why he watched Our Times three times

    I guess the female lead is just like me. So it feels like I am reliving a piece of my past as I watch the movie.The movie brings back loads of fond memories. ’’

    STUDENT LIM KA MIN, 21, on why Our Times struck a chord with her

    We grew up watching these Taiwanese shows. When you rewatch these old-school scenes, you may cringe. Now Our Times is really popular. People can recognise and relate to the scenes. ’’

    RACHEL TOH, 23, WHO PARODIES TRULY LIN IN A YOUTUBE SPOOF, feels that the movie deserves a place alongside iconic Taiwanese works

Says teacher Ng Shi Han, 29, who watched it three times: "I felt that I might have missed out on minor details that the director had planted in the movie. I only noticed certain things or understood the meaning behind the classic lines after the second, third viewing."

The movie strikes a chord with Ms Lim because it is filmed from the perspective of a Plain Jane female lead, Truly Lin (Vivian Sung), "who is hardly noticed by anyone in school".

She says: "I guess the female lead is just like me. So it feels like I am reliving a piece of my past as I watch the movie. The movie brings back loads of fond memories.

"I could relate to how school bully Hsu Tai-yu treats the wallflower Truly Lin badly because I had a male classmate who did the same to me. In fact, it was after watching this movie that I stopped to wonder if he secretly liked me. But, no, we are still good friends now."

Graphic designer Shermaine Tan, 26, decided to watch it a second time to understand the perspective of the male lead, mischief-maker Hsu Tai-yu (Darren Wang).

She says: "Hsu Tai-yu does plenty of things for Truly Lin, but doesn't have the courage to confess to her. It was silly, but cute at the same time."

Nostalgia is a big draw of Our Times, which is set in Taiwan in the 1990s, particularly for Taiwan-born Singaporean radio DJ Chang Cheng Yao. The 28-year-old UFM 100.3 DJ, who watched the movie twice, says: "I came over to Singapore in 2001, so I was still in Taiwan in the 1990s. Like the characters in the movie, I recall studying at a bubble tea shop which had a fortune-dispensing machine on each table."

Besides, Singaporeans are no strangers to Taiwanese popular culture and Cantopop mania, which are featured heavily in the movie, says Nanyang Technological University assistant professor Liew Kai Khiun.

Prof Liew, 42, who has research interests in pop culture, says: "Generations were brought up on songs from Taiwanese singers Teresa Teng to Jolin Tsai. The Cantopop references would be familiar to audiences who spent their formative years from the 1980s.

"The more quaint practices of the pre-digital media era of cutting out pictures of celebrities from magazines is also something that audiences can identify with."

Our Times fan Rachel Toh feels the movie deserves a place alongside iconic Taiwanese works.

Ms Toh, a producer at YouTube channel Butterworks, worked with her team to create a spoof paying homage to classic scenes from Taiwanese idol dramas and movies, such as Meteor Garden, You Are The Apple Of My Eye and Our Times.

The online video has been viewed more than 100,000 times.

Says Ms Toh, 23, who watched Our Times twice: "We grew up watching these Taiwanese shows. When you rewatch these old- school scenes, you may cringe. Now Our Times is really popular. People can recognise and relate to the scenes."

In fact, the makers of Our Times seem to be aware of its place in Taiwanese pop culture - it features a cameo by Taiwanese actor Jerry Yan, who had played the dashing, but domineering terror Dao Ming Si in hit idol drama Meteor Garden (2001).

Viewer Sufiyah Amir, 21, an assistant producer in video production, says: "My memories of having a crush on Dao Ming Si came flooding back. It felt as if Yan had passed the baton of the bad-boy character to Our Times actor Darren Wang."

Apart from Our Times' place in Taiwanese pop culture, its themes of student dynamics, awkward teen years and boy-girl relationships are universal.

Ms Sabrina Rahmat, 24, says: "It brought me back to my younger days. It felt nostalgic to watch the school environment with the girl cliques and cool kids."

Ms Sabrina, who does freelance marketing work, is thinking of watching the movie a second time.

And, according to Ms Lim, the antics of Hsu Tai-yu and Truly Lin have sparked discussion among viewers, particularly over what Truly says to Tai-yu: "When a girl says she's all right, she's really not all right."

Ms Lim says: "My guy friends started talking about the line. They wanted to know if it's really true."


Spot the difference

This year's hit Taiwanese movie Our Times has been dubbed the distaff version of another popular film from the same territory, 2011's You Are The Apple Of My Eye.

Here are some ways the two high-school romance flicks are similar.

1. Puppy Love and Secret Crushes

Both movies revolve around teenage romances in the 1990s.

Writer-director Giddens Ko based You Are The Apple Of My Eye on his 2007 semi-autobiographical novel, The Girl We Chased Together In Those Years.

Our Times' director Frankie Chen set out to create a movie encapsulating first love. To create an authentic story, Chen poured her heart out to the scriptwriter - sharing details of her puppy love and school days.

2. Girls love "bad" boys

There is something attractive about bad boys that has scriptwriters penning them into every other idol drama or movie.

Apple's Ko Ching-teng (Kai Ko Chen-tung) is the mischievous prankster who gets on the nerves of his A-star student crush Shen Chia-yi (Michelle Chen). Our Times' Hsu Tai-yu (Darren Wang) is the school bully who terrorises the nerdy Truly Lin (Vivian Sung).

Of course, these bad boys are not rotten to the core. In both movies, they go to the rescue of the female leads by taking the rap for school offences.

In real life, Ko and Wang were reportedly schoolmates in elementary and middle school.

3. Idol crushes

Celebrity obsession is a rite of passage that most teens go through.

Schoolgirl Lin's infatuation with Heavenly King Andy Lau is on full display in Our Times - she calls herself Mrs Lau, has a collection of Lau photo cards, and plastered stickers of Lau's face on her chair in the classroom.

In Apple, the fascination with idols is subtle. Eagle-eyed viewers would have noticed a picture card of Hong Kong actress Vivian Chow sandwiched between the pages of a notebook.

The inclusion of these two popular 1990s idols in the movies was no pure coincidence.

Director Chen is a fan of Cantopop king Lau. She invited Lau to make a cameo in Our Times.

Director Ko invited Chow to star in his follow-up movie Cafe. Waiting.Love (2014).

4. Throwback to the 1990s

Nostalgia seems to be a winning formula for both movies, which transport audiences back two decades in time.

Our Times packs a full-on retro onslaught in the use of props such as Walkman portable cassette players and celebrity photo cards and features classic 1990s songs such as Hong Kong dance trio Grasshopper's catchy track Shi Lian Zhen Xian Lian Meng (Broken Hearts Club).

For lovelorn boys, the 1990s era meant extra effort in chasing their love interests. Mobile phones were not common back then. So in Apple, Ko is seen in a long queue of boys waiting to use a public phone to call their crushes or girlfriends.

Gwendolyn Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Our Times an all-time hit'. Print Edition | Subscribe