Full of bitchiness, pillow talk and gay subtext, plus skirts that trail for yards, “Tiny Times 2.0” is a sexier affair than “Tiny Times,” the Shanghai-set tween girl-power fantasy directed and adapted from his own book by Guo Jingming, mainland China’s highest-earning novelist. Though this sequel is just as glossy and shallow as its predecessor, the story gets juicier as the four femme friends transform from kittens to lynxes in the wake of boy troubles and corporate takeovers. A confident manifesto on the materialistic ambitions of China’s post-’90 generation, Guo’s pic should continue the first film’s winning streak at the local box office, followed by a possible Stateside bow.
SEE ALSO: Film Review: “Tiny Times”
Adapted from the second installment of Guo’s four-part novel, “Tiny Times 2.0” is being released earlier domestically than originally planned to capitalize on the boffo B.O. of “Tiny Times,” which broke China’s opening-day records with $11.9 million. The new pic, which drew $8.8 million its first day, is another celebration of champagne-swigging decadence, with enough furs on display to give Brigitte Bardot a heart attack.
But there’s also a fresh sassiness to the characters’ snarky wordplay, and the way they rough up friends and lovers is more faithful to the spirit of Guo’s novels. Sex is not shown, but it’s on everybody’s lips. Casual flings and infidelities sow seeds of discord and spice up the drama, though ultimately they’re treated as minor follies at best, while homoerotic double-entendres and shots of buff, naked torsos rep another source of transgressive fun.
Perhaps spurred by criticism of the first film’s weak storyline, the plot squeezes in enough storylines to fill several seasons of “Gossip Girl.” Four high-school BFFs — Lin Xiao (Mini Yang); Gu Li, aka Lily (Amber Kuo); Nan Xiang (Bea Hayden); and Tang Wanru, aka Ruby (Hsieh Yi-lin) — graduate from university, only to find their friendships severely tested by betrayals and family tragedies. The dense script provides more backstories and stronger character interplay than the first film, but only Gu Li, feistily played by Kuo, has a truly assertive presence here, and her story arc is the dominant one of the bunch.
Shanghai continues to function as a gilded metropolis, but whereas “Tiny Times” centered around a fashion show, parties become the sine qua non of “2.0.” The first act revolves around Gu Li’s extravagant birthday bash, where some dirty linen is unexpectedly aired and nearly all her guests turn against her. The only person who stands by her is her ex, Gu Yuan (Kai Ko Chen-tung), despite having broken up with her under pressure from his overbearing mother, Ye Chuanping (Wang Lin).
An unexpected event catapults Gu Li into the position of chairman of her father’s business empire, which faces a hostile takeover by corporate giant Constanli and Ye’s company. Gu Yi finds herself in a battle of financial wits with Gu Yuan and Gong Ming (Rhydian Vaughan), Lin’s boss and the editor-in-chief of fashion mag M.E. True to the film’s brand-name obsession, Gu Li and Gong’s showdown is fashion-themed, as when she mistakes his Ferragamo suit for Prada — a faux pas drolly represented as something far graver than betting on the wrong hedge fund. Kuo establishes a charming, flirtatious chemistry with Vaughan, whose Gong never sparks with supposed love interest Lin Xiao.
Of the other characters, Hayden’s Nan shows a catty side that temporarily offsets her blandness, while Hsieh’s Tang, previously a self-pitying clown, similarly becomes more interesting when she gets to show some vitriol. The problem of a wan male cast continues to plague the series, and despite the greater emphasis on romance, only Vaughan and Ko stand out.
Tech credits are uneven. Guo has made little progress in taming his gaudy visual style, featuring cheesy slow-motion and soft focus so blurry and oddly lit, one wonders if the lenses have fogged over. The mawkish pop songs seem to take on a life of their own independent of the plot.