There are some stories that are clearly shallow, juvenile and cliched, and yet they keep getting told and we keep watching them. Even as I griped about there being yet another Itazura na Kiss
adaptation when Fall in Love at First Kiss
was announced, I knew I was going to watch it – because of course I am.
After Hana Yori Dango, Itazura na Kiss has to be the most popular shojo manga for adaption, and it's especially beloved in Taiwan because of the classic idol drama It Started With a Kiss. Just three years ago, there was a new Taiwan TV adaptation of Itazura na Kiss. Now we get a movie. Iconic source material aside, Fall in Love at First Kiss does have another big selling point: the reteaming of Darren Wang and director Chen Yu Fen after their blockbuster breakout Our Times.
Taiwan has a knack for youth films, as demonstrated in Our Times, and Fall in Love at First Kiss does fit into that mold. Chen Yu Fen would have probably worked better with an original story than a manga, but if there's going to be an Itazura na Kiss movie, might as well have the Our Times team on it!
Though it can't measure to the delightful magic of Our Times or classic chemistry of It Started with a Kiss, Fall in Love has a bright, bubbly and earnest energy that's quite infectious. It's sweet, goofy and, yes, kind of dumb in that shojo teen movie way. The story is familiar and fairly faithful to the manga, but certain elements are updated in fun ways, like the exaggerated school campus, Xiang Qin's cutesy love letter and the use of social media. Visually, the film is beautiful in much the same way that Our Times is. The art direction and cinematography are crisp, colorful and pretty, adding to the young, fizzy-sweet atmosphere.
Because there's a lot of plot points to get in, the film is a bit brisk and episodic, and the OTP's romantic chemistry and milestones do suffer as a result. However, the breezy pace and condensed narrative also help keep the story light, diverting and compact. Considering previous live-action adaptations have been TV dramas and a trilogy of films, the shorter time commitment of Fall in Love at First Kiss makes the flaws more forgivable.
Darren Wang doesn't quite fit the image of cold academic prodigy Zhi Shu – let's face it, he'd make a better Jin – but he's more in his element here than in all the other awkward co-productions he's been miscast for in recent years. Jelly Lin, as well, brings back the self-deprecating spunk she showed in Mermaid to play the adorably relatable, warmhearted and ditzy Xiang Qin.
Is Fall in Love at First Kiss great and meaningful cinema? No, but asking for that would be a mismatched expectation. The youth romcom is bright, endearing, visually pleasing and compulsively watchable for those who enjoy the genre. This isn't my favorite Itazura na Kiss adaptation, but it may vie for second or third place.