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The story of The Story of 90 Coins is almost as interesting as the short film itself. Taking on a life all its own, the 10-minute movie became a social media sensation when it was posted online and shared tens of thousands of times. While its storyline and message has divided many, it at least generates conversation, and if there is one thing any filmmaker strives for, it’s for that.
That filmmaker is Michael Wong, who spent more than a decade and a half in the advertising business and so knows a thing or two about how to craft a message and more importantly, elicit emotions. The Story of 90 Coins does both and depending on your take, mostly very well. It has a specific agenda, but on its own, it has a lot of potential and if anything, reveals that Wong knows what he’s doing behind the camera. See for yourself:
The story centers on a young couple in an unnamed Chinese city. Wang Yuyang (Dongjun Han) and Chen Wen (Zhuang Zhiqi) are facing a relationship impasse though Yuyang tells Wen that he wants to take care of her forever. She confesses she does not feel the same right now, so he asks her for ninety days in which he can prove himself worthy. Each day he will give her one coin and in the end, if she still refuses his offer, they will use the money to buy drinks and say goodbye. But if she says yes, they will use the money to buy a marriage certificate.
Conventionally, you’d think the film would follow them through these ninety days, but rather, it skips ahead, and we learn that she did in fact agree (promise) to his offer but they actually didn’t marry yet. Her life becomes very busy and her fashion designs earn her a chance to move to Paris, invited by the roguishly handsome Frenchman, Andre (Jose Acosta). Naturally, there are some misunderstandings and decisions made that cause great emotional conflict.
While I don’t necessarily agree with Wong’s narrative–I found the overly sentimental and dramatic ending too much, especially with the added text on screen to try and give punch to the already easy to understand message. But that aside, what Wong does right is how much (and how well) he conveys in the limited time, reducing situations and encounters to a microcosmic romance that it actually rather refreshing. Stripped to the barest of dialogue, scenes transition at high speed but with absolute clarity. We are always aware of where they are despite the time jumps throughout as a number of select coin days are presented. They are a mix of humor and drama, but they do well in establishing the context of these two characters, which makes the misunderstanding hard to accept and the choice made even more, but again, Wong is trying to reach a very specific ending.
The Story of 90 Coins has separated itself from its source in a way, now viewed as a legitimate short film that has earned a number of awards and continues to gain a larger following every day. Seen this way, it deserves praise, and Wong demonstrates that a larger project is surely his next step.
Director: Michael Wong
Writer: Bai Xuedan
Stars: Jose Acosta, Dongjun Han, Zhuang Zhiqi
Language: Chinese, English subtitles