As much as our government here in Hong Kong keeps saying that we are a conservative society, we’re seeing increasing evidence that that’s no longer the case. Tattoos, which were once the sole domain of triad members, can now be seen on the arms and legs of almost everyone in their 20s. Radio programs are talking about sex and more young people are either coming out of the closet or are willing to experiment. Our leaders, however, refuse to move with the times, denying spousal benefits to same-sex couples until forced to do so by a ruling in 2019 by our Court of Final Appeal. The snag, though, is that the couple must be married in a jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is legal. Truly baby steps for Asia’s so-called “World City”.
At least Hong Kong filmmakers aren’t shying away from dealing with same-sex relationships in their films. The 2019 film, THE FIRST GIRL I LOVED, which is finally getting its commercial release, tells the story of two teenage students, Wing (Hedwig Tam Sin-yin/談善言, THE LADY IMPROPER; ADIEU) and Sylvia (Renci Yeung Sz-wing/楊偲泳, GUILT BY DESIGN), who start off as best friends but then take their relationship to a different level, much to the consternation of the principal at their all-girl Catholic high school and Sylvia’s mother, who thinks there’s an “I prefer women” gene that’s causing her daughter to be gay.
No doubt, more than a few of our politicians, particularly those from a certain pro-establishment party that is known for its anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, are clutching their hearts in feigned outrage over this film. But really, what’s the big deal? The girls are experimenting, as kids do. Interestingly, or perhaps refreshingly, both fathers are rather blasé about the whole thing when their relationship goes very public.
To the screenwriters’, Candy Ng Wing-shan/吳詠珊 and Susan Sin Wing-na’s, credit, THE FIRST GIRL I LOVED shows that sexual identity can be fluid. Gay today, straight tomorrow, although some people may argue that “bi now, gay later” is more the norm. Unfortunately, the film falters when the girls grow up and head off to university. Sylvia decides the straight life is for her, and that means giving up on her dream to become a filmmaker… because filmmakers are gay? I didn’t understand that one. Wing, on the other hand, tries her luck with a guy, realises it’s not for her and decides never to wear dresses again… because gay women don’t wear dresses? Another plot point I didn’t understand. Wing also decides to become a filmmaker simply because Sylvia didn’t. I can just imagine how her interview to get into film school went. “No, I have no experience making films. No, I never had dreams of being a filmmaker. Yes, I’m only applying because my ex wanted to be one and she changed her mind.” To add to the ludicrousness of the story, Sylvia asks Wing to make a promise that they’ll marry each other if they’re still single by the time they’re 30. She then disappears for a bunch of years only to resurface right before her wedding to a guy.
Sadly, TVB actor Yeung Chiu-hoi/楊潮凱 and Ng, both making their directorial debut here, fall prey to a problem that plagues most teen coming-of-age movies made in this part of the world. Tam and Yeung are 31 and 28 respectively and no amount of pale pancake makeup, bad hairstyling and soft lighting is going to make them look 17. Yes, I know Tom Holland is 25 but Asian filmmakers seem to take it to the extreme when it comes to casting teenage roles.
That being said, THE FIRST GIRL I LOVED is not a complete washout. The concept is good. It’s the execution, however, that is lacking.
THE FIRST GIRL I LOVED is playing in Hong Kong’s cinemas now.
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