Adapted from a modern internet novel called 28岁未成年 (which I think translates roughly to “28 Years Young”, but I’m likely wrong so tell me) Suddenly Seventeen actually has more in common with high concept 90’s rom-coms like What Women Want than anything else. In the midst of a premarital crisis with her workaholic husband Mao Liang (Wallace Huo) Jing Xia (Ni Ni) enters a premarital crisis, and upon eating magic chocolate reverts back to her 17 year old self. In the process, Jing Xia’s explores her past (including first lovers) whilst her teenage self puts her relationship into further disarray.
This is the first film of Zhang Mo – daughter of the renowned director Zhang Yimou – and it shows. It has a wild tone, ranging from cartoonish comedy (with sped up footage) to one small scene reminiscent of Fallen Angels to a surprisingly dark/dramatic/silly ending. This is not even mentioning the time travel/body swapping antics, which somehow is not as confusing as some general plot shenanigans .
There is literally a moment where, for reasons that can only be described as “because plot”, an asteroid appears to hit one specific, convenient location.
I can’t pretend that a movie which has that as a plot element is a great one, barely a good one. There are also bizarre things like drawings that look like touched up photographs, and Weechat conversations that look like they occurs between two sources, but come from the same phone (Silly things which do add up).
But all these are emblematic of things that ultimately became part of the film’s charms. The movie keeps coming up with increasingly funny and dramatic ways in which the two different Jing Xia’s communicate and effect each other. Despite teenage Jing being occasionally obnoxious, both feed into this balance between idealism and maturity, the dreams of youth crashing into the hardships of adult life. The films use of colour and make up combine with Ni Ni’s two character performance to pull off a feat many actors couldn’t: to make two different characters feel like the same person.
The disparity of character becomes oddly appropriate to a film with such disparate tones, and that will ultimately depend on your tolerance of the anarchic final results. Suddenly Seventeen is not a great film, but there are films I’ve watched this year that were “better” that I enjoyed significantly less.