‘Tiny Times’ was released this month to blockbuster sales and much uproar. Writing in The Atlantic, Ying Zhu and Frances Hisgen called the film ‘a great leap backward for Chinese women’. Shanghaiist entertainment and lifestyle editor Siukei Cheung and I decided to check it out for ourselves. If what follows seems confusing and lacking in depth, then we will have succeeded in imparting to you the experience of watching Tiny Times.
Siukei: Okay, where do we even begin…
James: My main take away from the film was that it was just incredibly confusing, and I think that was because there was very little plot, things kind of just happened.
Siukei: Things kind of just happened and then whenever something remotely even approaching conflict occurred the director stuck in a dappy montage of the protagonists being ‘BFFs 4eva”
James: That was the ultimate message of the film, no? BFFs 4eva? Which is kind of a nice message to be fair, nicer than I was expecting going in to the film.
Siukei: Well the B-stories about the girls’ significant others did seem to be leaning towards a romantic message, but one that was ultimately summed up as “love without materialism will just crumble like sand”.
James: Yeah, what the fuck was that? That line came after a fairly decent monologue about how her fuerdai boyfriend didn’t understand that him saying he would “give up everything” for her was something only someone who had never been poor would say.
But then suddenly she veered away from class politics into talking about how vital materialism is to a relationship. “Love without materialism will just crumble like sand” felt like it had been added just to piss of the critics.
Siukei: That boy was one of the few characters I felt sympathy for.
James: Their relationship was potentially an interesting plot, her conflict with his old money mother who doesn’t want her son marrying a peasant. There were several plot strands that seemed to be going somewhere interesting that the director just gave up on. The relationship between the protagonist, her boyfriend, and her boss was being set up in the first half of the film as a love triangle, until the director seemed to forget about it.
Siukei: The boss goes off and spends Christmas with the other assistant, what was that?
James: Exactly! And there’s a scene when it seems to be setting up the two of them as having an intimate relationship, but later on in the film they clearly don’t.
Siukei: The writer guy too? What the fuck was his story? He got the only good speech in the entire fucking film and the closing image. And yet the only thing we really know about him is that he eyed up the main girl at a bar ONE TIME.
James: Also he had an Xbox in his apartment and you’re not allowed to buy those in China. What’s up with that Tiny Times?
Siukei: Censors should have been all over that. Instead they’re going after harmless family animations about little yellow men.
James: Okay, so lets try and establish what the plot was. She works at a magazine, and then they put on a fashion show.
Siukei: The more I think about it, the less it makes sense.
James: There was lots of potentially interesting relationship drama that they just gave up on in favour of focusing in the final act on a university fashion show. A UNIVERSITY FASHION SHOW.
You think the stakes can’t get any lower, and then they do.
Siukei: And of course the protagonists have to appear in the fashion show, even though they’re only supposed to be organising it. The message of the film at that point seemed to be, “maybe one day you’ll have a friend who will design a dress for you”.
Speaks to my soul.
James: One of the dresses was so ugly though.
Siukei: Sooo ugly.
James: The character who said several times in the film how much she wanted to wear a pretty dress one day was given basically the ugliest fucking thing to wear in the world. Her friend’s “generous gesture” was to send her out in something that looked like it was made out of Ms Piggy’s lifeless corpse with baubles stuck on it.
Siukei: The four protagonists reminded me of the pizazz and unrealistic individuality of a 90s girl group. The small and spineless one, the hot headed one, the one with ambition, and the only one who weighs more than 100lb.
James: Yeah, the ‘fat one’ (as demonstrated by the fact that she’s always eating / talking about food) who wasn’t actually remotely fat.
Siukei: It was actually quite funny when she wailed at the top of her voice, with tears in her eyes, “I want stinky tofu!”
James: She had most of the best lines.
Siukei: Some of it was a bit crass, overacted, but at least more interesting than 99 percent of the other bullshit that was going on.
James: I think that’s a decent segue into things we actually liked about the film.
Siukei: Things, plural?
James: It was beautifully shot.
Siukei: Shanghai was beautifully portrayed in the film. Pudong is apparently the new Manhattan.
James: No. Puxi was the new Manhattan, Pudong was New Jersey. As exemplified by my favourite line in the film: “You know I get allergies when I leave the inner city”.
Siukei: “Everything smells like concrete”.
James: So, grievances?
Siukei: Plot. Plot was terrible. Like, so bad. The only thing worth anything to the protagonists was a completely pointless university fashion show. I lost count of how many times the main character welled up over that.
I couldn’t help but laugh at what was clearly supposed to be the darkest moment of the film when she’s crying on the side of the road (in the snow).
James: That was hilarious. It also led into by far the weirdest scene of the film, when her friends miraculously appeared on the Ya’an elevated road even though the reason she’s crying is that she’s stuck there and can’t get to them.
Siukei: The saddest, most forlorn, most difficult moment of the film was about a fucking traffic jam.
James: That was the closest the film came to having actual stakes, actual drama.
Siukei: It could have been forgiven a lot of its sins if the director had went with it there.
James: If she failed to make it to the fashion show and her world collapsed around her.
Siukei: But no, instead it’s MONTAGE TIME… AGAIN.
James: Oh god those horrible split screen shots.
So the one thing that really surprised me about the film, was that I wasn’t really offended at all by it. I feel like people getting annoyed by it are taking it way more seriously than it deserves, they’re connecting with the film more than its creators did.
Siukei: In the film’s defence, at no point was I bored.
James: It definitely didn’t drag, and it had some genuinely funny moments.
Siukei: But zero emotional depth. The laughs were mostly slapstick, but I like slapstick. It was basically Chuckle Brothers comedy.
James: That incredibly British reference reminds me, we should point out that in no way were we the target audience for this film.
Siukei: Definitely not.
James: It was like watching a 90 minute music video with occasional jokes. I didn’t really dislike it, it was kind of too superficial or lacking in depth to feel that strongly about.
Siukei: I kind of liked the superficiality of it.
James: At no point did it make you work.
Siukei: I didn’t dislike it either, but it certainly could have done with a dozen less montages and monologues. It’s the way you tell a story not the story itself after all. Though in this case, I question whether or not there was a story to tell.
James: That it managed to keep us both entertained for 90 minutes with only the smallest sliver of anything like a story is a feat in itself really.
Siukei: The fact that most of the actors were slammin’ hot probably helped.