Winsome, sweet, fun, and absolutely adorable. This is a coming-of-age series filled with the cutest and honestly most androgynous looking actors I have ever seen. That is NOT a negative criticism, but simply an observational comment that added to the enjoyment of this series.
It is a story about five friends, with each exploring their own sexuality in very different ways. With just one character, unfortunately, being left behind and facing unrequited love (more on him later). The story begins with Trong Nghia, played by Hoa Dan. He has a dream about his best friend Nhant Minh, played by Ngoan Truong. He dreams about trying to kiss him. At that moment, he realizes that Minh is now just not a friend, but the individual to whom he is deeply attracted to in a sexual way. This of course can be very confusing, and leaves him bewildered. To test his hypothesis, he hugs others to see if his heart races and his face turns red with them. But there is nothing until he hugs Minh, and he realizes that he is indeed attracted to him. It is an adorable romp with added adolescent clumsiness. Nghia tries to convince Minh that he is more to him than just a friend, but Minh pretends to just dismiss his overtures. The writers indeed captured adolescent behaviors with accuracy. Suddenly you see someone differently than you did before and do not know what to make of it.
There is also an adorable connection between Tien Thanh, played so well by Kitess and Thien Tu played by Tieu Thanh. Thanh is so smitten by Tu, and it is obvious to everyone that she is. Tu knows this, of course, and manipulates her influence to try and get her to admit her feelings, so she could then admit hers. Each of them plays their roles with such great care and starry-eyed love between them that it is just incredibly cute. It is never over the top or silly. At one point, Thanh asks her about what she is looking for in a person. She responds with a very astute observation, “If you like someone, you can also like more than one. But if you fall in love with another significant person, you will only be in love with that person. Because love is caring and responsibility.” That is solid and focused good screenwriting, and it was delivered with such a tone of believability and sincerity. We could see that Tu was deeply in love with her, and Thanh reciprocates her feelings equally.
The fifth member of this group is Quang Chau, played by The’Bang. He is the most reserved and, in a sense, timid in the group and very unsure of himself. He has an adopted brother, Thang, played by Thanh Vu, who intimates him and bullies him, with Chau unwilling to fight back. But the owner of the local coffee shop, Oanh Onah, played by Oanh Oanh cannot tolerate bullying and pretty much smacks Thang into submission and stops him from bullying Chau. Chau is so grateful, and it stirs in him an attraction for her. She tries to discourage him getting as she is older, and it might not be genuine. However, he astutely replies that he knows the difference between love and affection, and he does not appreciate her dismissal of his feelings because if their age difference. He grabs her and kisses her, and at that moment, there is a spark, a connection, something that she was not expecting. At the end of this series, we see these two talking and perhaps trying to develop into something more? That make this series so endearing because it left us hanging with a plausible outcome.
As the relationship between Nghia and Minh intensifies, there is a very interesting twist that happens in this story. Frankly, I did not see that coming and was stunned. So, those of you who are yet to watch this series, please stop as I will spoil it for you. The twist was so unexpected, and it turns the series into a recommendable one. All along, the assumption was that Minh was either disinterested in Nghia or ‘straight’. In reality, he is GAY and is falling, hard, for Nghia and this constant teasing is making him fall in love with him even more. Obviously, he does not want to be hurt if Nghia is just teasing him or just playing with his emotions. This came as a complete shock to me, and I found it to be so unexpectedly adorable. Nghia confesses his love for Minh and wants him to be his boyfriend, but he is not sure and needs time. In the end, Nghia arranges this romantic interlude, corny though it is, and finally Minh agrees to be his boyfriend. Nghia is ecstatic and kisses Minh all over his face and lips. This is “Every gay old man’s Fantasy of the Past” where you genuinely have your first crush, sweeping you off your feet in the heat of the moment. It was sweet to watch and made me smile and just escape for a brief moment into my adolescent fantasy.
It is a story of five friends who are in high school and are finding, and to some degree, exploring their feelings for others on a more intense level. It affectionately seems like ‘puppy-love’, but it is presented in a surprisingly progressive fashion. For sure, it is all so innocent and cute, but the story on how they get there is a remarkable one if you look for it. If it were not for the exceptional acting of all the individuals, this series would have been nothing more than a high school senior project. But they brought real life emotions to their characters. Real understanding of their characters. And real commitment to portraying each of them uniquely. It is not in depth, but it was never meant to be and the point of this series is to show a group of friends beginning to become sexual beings. I do not know the ages or background experiences of these actors, but as an ensemble, they are very good.
All these actors were exceptionally convincing in their roles, but there is one that stood out for me, which I referenced earlier. His character name is Kim, played by Soo Jin. His character is almost background noise, but suddenly you realize he is more than that. For he seems to be helpful to everyone and is undoubtedly the smartest kid in the class. He is willing and able to help and offers help to everyone, trying very hard to get himself noticed and liked. But always to no avail. He is not even thought about and taken for granted by others or is looked at as an enemy since he knows so much. It becomes obvious that he likes Tu and is helping her in the development of clothes designing career. But as he gets close to her, she is swept away by Thanh. She only sees Kim as a schoolmate and as a reference source. Nothing more and he knows it. His older brother (who is a teacher) tells him to not give up. But Kim resolutely replies that he knows that he doesn’t have a place in her heart and therefore it wouldn’t make any difference if he confessed his feelings for her. It is so obvious he is pinning for her and is sad to see her walk off with Thanh. He truly is the forgotten one and the one that ends up alone and miserable and literally having no friends. Ironically, he is the one that they all rely on for help. Yet, they do not ‘see’ him at all. Soo Jin plays this role with such quiet conviction and inevitability. He knows he can never match up to being ‘liked’ by them, which is profoundly sad. He displays such unhappiness throughout this series, almost going unnoticed. Yet, we feel his pain of loneliness. I saw so much of him in myself as I was growing up and I know what it is to be a part of the background and never be noticed. I want to hug and tell him, ‘hang in there, kid. It does get better, and you will be appreciated. Just give it time’. In the meantime, sadness and loneliness will be your companions for a little while longer.
This is not going to be a series for everyone and honestly, I am sure there are some out there who will think my praise of this series is unjustified. But for me, it is yet again another gem from Vietnam that tells a whole story succinctly (4 episodes of approximately 15 minutes each). While parts of it might be unique to Vietnamese adolescents, so much of it is relatable to adolescents everywhere. They can be endearing, charming, seeing the world through beautifully myopic eyes, yet profoundly cruel. The writers captured these sentiments wonderfully and accurately. They saw these kids through adolescent eyes and wrote it with that in mind. Lest we forget (those of us who are old) how beautiful life was or perceived to be when we were younger. How our attractions to others felt so good, exciting, and all ours and sometimes quite sudden and almost always unrequited. It was romantic and fun, and this series captured that. I loved this silly little series that indeed brought back old memories and made me reflect.
Rating – 4 out of 5