SHORT FILM REVIEW: The Story of 90 Coins



If there is a complaint some audiences (ok, maybe just this writer) have for feature-length film romances, especially those of the Nicholas Sparks adaptation vein, it is that they belabor and beat every single thematic point to death.  The worst of that genre throws everything but the kitchen sink between the central lovers, thinking that the larger the minefield of adversities and obstacles, the grander the romance in the end.  It becomes too much.

The superior, more relatable, and more believable cinematic romances narrow their focus to present the symbolic adversity as a singular hurdle that cuts like a scalpel instead of a blunt spoon.  You can't get much more streamlined than a nine-minute short film.  What "The Story of 90 Coins" does in its nine minutes puts two-hour romances to shame with simple beauty and hugely effective poignancy.  True to the short film art form, nothing is belabored and every moment counts in filmmaker Michael Wong's much-lauded debut short film.

Two twenty-something young professionals, Wang Yu Yang (Han Dongjun) and Chen Wen (Zhuang Zhiqi), are sharing a balcony overlooking Beijing.  The man, a graphic designer, is ready for commitment, but the woman, a fashion designer, is still unsure.  Wang proposes that Chen gives him 90 days to prove himself.  Each day for three months, he will share a coin with her in a hand-folded envelope that will add to nine dollars. 

If after that time Chen doesn’t want to stay with him, they will buy drinks where they first met, toast their time together, and part ways.  If she does, that nine dollars equals the fee of a marriage certificate.  As the shared courtship time grows, their relationship becomes closer and each day Chen packs her received envelopes into a special box.  Suddenly, toward the end of the 90 days, a misunderstanding of fidelity, in the form of Chen's work partner (Jose Acosta), jeopardizes the strengthening and overall outcome of their relationship.  

As a debut feature on a micro-budget, there's nothing spare about Wong's short film.  The polished details percolate in every direction, set to gorgeously light music from An Wei.  Dongjun and Zhiqi convey emotional energy mostly through internal monologue voiceovers and genuinely sweet montages of their characters' whimsical dates and adventures, collected with a sweeping glow by director of photography Jian Liwei and layered by Song Kaiyi's editing.

The two leads share a natural affection that had to be a joy to perform.  Even the ever-present photographs of the two in the backgrounds of scenes tell a new piece to the story and give depth in a short form setting.  Their fleeting moments create a kinetic memory log that floods the screen the way remembered thoughts either give us frozen pauses of reflection or make our minds dance with delight.  The pendulum of those emotional reactions extend to the audience in a breathless amount of time.

"The Story of 90 Coins" is a microcosm of pure and modern young love that transfers in any language and is free of unnecessary cinematic obstacle courses that strain believability.  Written by Bai Xueden, this short story is completely relatable and endearing melodrama in all its approachable beauty that succeeds in under 10 minutes to tug heartstrings and linger in your consciousness.  Don’t you dare call this an overlong greeting card, a miniature soap opera, or a expanded touchy-feely TV commercial.  This is intentional, taut filmmaking with beautiful messages.  Better yet, go see it yourself right here.

LESSON #1: THE SIMPLEST GESTURES ARE WHAT REALLY BUILD A RELATIONSHIP-- Too many couples swing for the fences with grandiose dates and lavish gifts, thinking materialistic affection can create real affection.  Even if they are big and initially successful, expensive splashes are purely temporary.  What matters more are the frequent moments of connection that occur each and every day.  Communicate with your heart, not your bank account.  Hugs, love letters, texts, smiles, kisses, and even promises and dreams don't carry price tags.  They only cost you time and dedication.  Do the little things right with purpose and consistency.

LESSON #2: HAVE THE STRENGTH TO TRUST YOUR PARTNER OR UPHOLD A PROMISE-- Between our two lovers, trust is the challenge that either binds or breaks their shared promise.  Promises are open-ended and love can succeed or fail because of trustWhen trust is present, Wang and Chen are themselves with each other.  When it is questioned, weakness and regret push them apart and threaten to overcome any promises.  "The Story of 90 Coins" ends on the note "don't let a promise become just a beautiful memory."  That is a reminder of effort we all need to follow in any relationship.