Review: ‘My Love’ (2021), starring Greg Hsu and Zhang Ruonan

June 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Greg Hsu and Zhang Ruonan in “My Love” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

“My Love” (2021)

Directed by Han Tian

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 2006 to 2021, the comedy/drama film “My Love” features an all-Asian cast representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A teenage boy in high school falls in love with a fellow student, and for the next 15 years he tries to have a romance with her.

Culture Audience: “My Love” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in romantic stories that are sweet, sometimes whimsical and very sentimental.

Zhang Ruonan and Greg Hsu in “My Love” (Photo courtesy of CMC Pictures)

The romantic comedy/drama “My Love” takes viewers on a 15-year saga of a young man pining for a young woman whom he thinks is the love of his life. It’s a series of ups and downs in a love story that sometimes pours on the schmaltz and cutesiness too much, but the ending leaves no doubt that “My Love” is not a completely stereotypical romantic movie. The performances by the lead actors are charming enough to sustain interest when parts of the movie get a little too repetitive.

Directed by Han Tian (who co-wrote the “My Love” screenplay with Zhang Ying Jiao Tingting), “My Love” is based on director Lee Seok-Geun’s 2018 South Korean film “On Your Wedding Day.” In “My Love,” socially awkward Zhou Xiaoqi (played by Greg Hsu) and coolly confident You Yongci (played by Zhang Ruonan) first meet in 2006, when they were both about 17 years old in high school. The movie takes place in unnamed cities in China, and was filmed in the cities of Fuzhou, Quanzhou, Xiamen and Zhangzhou.

The story is told as a narrative flashback from Zhou Xiaoq’s perspective. It’s shown at the beginning of the film that as a man in his early 30s in the year 2021, he is now a swimming coach at a local high school. And the flashbacks begin in 2006 and are shown in increments by year.

It’s love at first sight for Zhou Xiaoqi the first time that he sees You Yongci at their high school. But the first time they make eye contact, it’s under humiliating circumstances for Zhou Xiaoqi: He’s getting beat up by some of the school bullies outside. Zhou Xiaoqi makes brief eye contact with You Yongci, and he’s instantly smitten. She barely seems to remember him when they talk for the first time.

You Yongci, who is an aspiring fashion designer, has recently transferred to the school and she’s able to make friends. Zhou Xiaoqi is somewhat of a nerd, but he does have something going for him which doesn’t make him a complete social outcast at school: He’s one of the better athletes on the school’s swimming team. And he hopes to impress You Yongci by winning swimming competitions.

Zhou Xiaoqi doesn’t get very far with You Yongci during the high school years of his courtship of her. He makes it clear from the beginning that he wants them to date each other, but she puts him in the “friend zone.” He respects those wishes but lets her know that he’s ready to romance her if she changes her mind.

Predictably, there are a few arrogant bullies on the school swim team who want to upstage and embarrass Zhou Xiaoqi. His biggest rival is a guy named Shark. And they think that You Yongci is out of Zhou Xiaoqi’s league.

There are some scenes of swim meets where You Yongci is there to cheer on Zhou Xiaoqi. At one of the swimming competitions, Zhou Xiaoqi is bullied and taunted again, but You Yongci races to his side wth a popsicle and briefly pretends that she’s his girlfriend to boost his confidence and to make his bullying teammates jealous.

As the two teens get to know each other better, Zhou Xiaoqi finds out that You Yongci has a shameful family secret: Her father physically and emotionally abuses her mother. And because of that, You Yongci and her mother constantly move to get away from You Yongci’s father. He usually finds them and the abuse starts again.

Zhou Xiaoqi offers to be there are a protective friend for You Yongci, but she refuses his help, mostly because she’s embarrassed about the domestic abuse in her family. And one day, Zhou Xiaoqi finds out that You Yongci has abruptly moved away with her mother again and hasn’t left a forwarding address. And none of the people at the school know where You Yongci went.

It’s now 2008, and Zhou Xiaoqi has been living an aimless life while still living home with his parents. He still thinks about You Yongci a lot. It’s implied that Zhou Xiaoqi doesn’t date very much or doesn’t date at all because he still thinks that You Yongci is “the one that got away.”

But one day, Zhou Xiaoqi is elated to find out, through a photo posted on social media, that You Yongci is enrolled at a university. Finding a purpose in life, Zhou Xiaoqi announces to his parents that he’s enrolling in the university. They’re thrilled that he seems to have found some goal in his life.

When he gets to the university, Zhou Xiaoqi comes across another obstacle in his attempt to court You Yongci. She has a boyfriend named Chen Chen (played by Guo Cheng), and he’s the star of the university’s soccer team. You Yongci is on the university cheerleading squad.

In order to be close to You Yongci, Zhou Xiaoq joins the cheerleading squad too. He’s the only man on the squad. And so, many of his male peers tease him about it. And it leads to more embarrassing situations where his masculinity is questioned.

Zhou Xiaoq’s actions seem stalker-ish, but he has such a harmless personality that viewers will probably be rooting for him, even though he puts himself in situations that make him look pathetic. You Yongci appreciates the attention that she gets from Zhou Xiaoq, but even she gets irritated occasionally with his lovesick behavior. And there’s tension and jealousy over You Yongci’s relationship with Chen Chen.

What will it take for You Yongci and Zhou Xiaoq to get together? And will it ever happen? And if it does, how long will it last? Those questions are answered in the movie. But it’s enough to say that the entire time that Zhou Xiaoq and You Yongci know each other, he’s constantly insecure that he isn’t good enough for her.

A lot of the antics that Zhou Xiaoq resorts to fall into slapstick comedy territory. Others are straight out of romantic drama stereotypes. Yes, there’s a frantic race to catch up to someone in the rain to tell that person something before it’s too late. Yes, there’s a medical crisis when Zhou Xiaoq gets a serious injury. And yes, there’s a big wedding in the movie. (None of this is spoiler information. It’s all in the movie’s trailer.)

These over-used tropes would be insufferable, but the last third of the film is really the best. And the wedding scene might not be what a lot of people think it will turn out to be. Even though the movie takes place over 15 years, there is barely any attempt to age the actors portraying Zhou Xiaoq and You Yongci. It’s a little bit of a distraction that the characters look the same at 17 as they do at age 32. But the gradual emotional maturity of the characters, not what they look like on the outside, is what counts the most in how these actors play their roles.

“My Love” is not the type of film that will be considered one of the greatest romantic movies of all time. But it’s exactly what it appears to be: an entertaining and mostly lightweight diversion. The movie’s greatest message is that it will make people think about how long it’s worth pursuing a dream and if that dream is really the best thing for the person who’s holding on to it.

CMC Pictures released “My Love” in select U.S. cinemas on May 7, 2021. The movie was released in China on April 30, 2021.