The premise of The Story of 90 Coins, the romance short film from director Michael Wong, is beautifully simple. A couple at a crossroads (Dongjun Han and Zhuang Zhiqi) give themselves 90 days to make a decision of whether to marry or part ways. Of course, reality sets in, and the poetry of the situation is threatened by real-world pressures.
This initial contrast of dual tones is pleasantly surprising. The film begins with a feeling of melodrama, that this will be a short overwrought with heavy lovelorn emotion. In a sense this is what we get, but there is also an abrupt immediacy in character decision-making that gives the short a more realistic tone on top of the melodrama. The mix is strange at first, but it is also oddly inviting.
With this melodramatic tone we get quite a bit of slow-motion montages set to a meandering piano score. Again, this feels somewhat on the nose for what the story is presenting, but the visual compositions are too lush and cinematic to pass up. It may be style over substance, but it makes for a gorgeous looking film. Additionally, that score from Wei An—the flourishing strings, in particular—is quite lovely.
Indeed, the film is largely visual in nature. A lot of the film’s narrative is told in voiceover, going over plot points that could have played out in conversation or through the visuals alone. While not a major detraction, the film may have found more success with more silence, where plot points were allowed to play out visually with no narration.
There are some minor technical faults in the film, as well. Over-dubbed English dialogue plays over lips that don’t match. The English language subtitles, too, are at times grammatically incorrect. While these hardly take away from the film’s larger construction and only make a difference to Western viewers, they are issues worth mentioning.
As far as romance films go, The Story of 90 Coins shows promise. It may not use its premise to full effect, and its climax returns fully to a melodrama that presents too much emotion than is necessary for the film to make its case. But the vibrant visual compositions and musical ambiance brings a layer of rich cinema to a film that would have otherwise gotten lost in its own narration. And, if nothing else, it is a film that depicts hope in romance in a world where cynicism and irony has made such depictions hard to come by.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)