Love is found and lost, but friendship perseveres in beguiling Chinese youth pic “Young & Clueless.” Repping the directorial debut of screenwriter Tang Danian (“Beijing Bastards,” “Beijing Bicycle”), film is as joyful and painful as falling in love for the first time. Some auds may find this effort about youthful romance too slight, but to insist on more is to miss the authenticity of its offerings. Chinese-lingo territories should offer small commercial success, and further afield film may tempt quality fests.
Giggling schoolgirls, effervescent Qi Qi (Pu Pu) and more reserved Xi (Tian Yuan), watch handsome high jumper Yi Huan (Song Ning) on the school sports field. After consulting her astrology charts and Taoist texts, Qi Qi warns her friend off the athletic boy, but, completely smitten, Xi allows Yi Huan to pursue her.
The couple’s romance is both glorious and heart-breaking … in that order. Afterward, Xi has a recurring dream about running fearfully around a crumbling building.
For Qi Qi, no man is quick enough, though the gawky, bespectacled Yong Liang (Wu Xiaoliang) does his best to capture her eye.
Some unspecified time after the girls graduate from high school, the two, now office workers, are celebrating Xi’s birthday at a nightclub when Yi Huan, who has since become a DJ, reappears.
Qi Qi is likewise reunited with Yong Liang and welcomes him into her life. Thrilled with his luck, Yong Liang quickly proposes.
Watching over these city life shenanigans is an anonymous and morose country bumpkin cum construction worker, Yi Sheng (Tang Yinuo). With a maudlin electric guitar playing a jarring one note signature tune on the soundtrack, Yi Sheng appears like a memorable character out of Jarmusch or Wenders. Atop a building crane, he wistfully looks into the apartments of the Shanghai nouveau riche (including Qi Qi’s abode). He spends his evenings hitting the redial buttons of public telephones hoping to find someone to talk to.
Compassionate pic watches the romances play out in a real-life twentysomething love manner. However script from newcomer Zao Zao (unusually, for a bowing helmer with strong screenwriter credentials, Tang has filmed someone else’s script) takes a more active hand: While pic has authentic ring, yarn unexpectedly uses Xi’s recurring nightmares as a means to a satisfying narrative end.
Helming is visually inventive, but never at the story’s expense.
Production design is simple but effective, though emphasis on high heels and schoolgirl motifs in pic’s opening 40 minutes borders on the prurient. Lensing is carefully integrated into the story with subtly different color schemes running throughout.
Naturalistic thesping is strong across the board. Tian Yuan remains the center of sympathy and holds her own and against the flashier role and perf of Pu Pu’s Qi Qi who is impossible to ignore. While pic’s story carries many of the hallmarks of indie cinema of China and beyond, the tech credits are good quality. Mandarin title roughly translates as “Time of Youth.”