Hot on the (stiletto) heels of "Tiny Times," which broke box-office records in China, the romantic melodrama "Tiny Times 2" arrives here just weeks after the first installment, offering more fashion-shoot-ready Shanghai locations in a soapy package. The same quartet of pretty young up-and-comers hope and scheme, weep and strut, never forgetting to schedule time for wardrobe changes.
Working from his bestselling series of novels, writer-director Guo Jinming continues to wield hammy visuals and pop-song overkill while trying to strike a less-carefree tone. Picking up his protagonists' stories four years later, as they graduate from college, Guo throws romantic betrayal, corporate intrigue, stomach cancer and fatal accidents into the mix. Sex is suggested but not shown. Young women are struck blushingly dumb by glimpses of beefcake — as in the first "Tiny," most of the male love interests are interchangeably forgettable — while several gay references might be edgy within the context of mainstream Chinese fare.
The four friends are tethered by story requirements but devoid of true connection. Mini Yang and Amber Kuo lead the ensemble with the most substantial roles; the former serves as narrator, delivering strained poetic observations. As if to bolster the overwrought metaphors, Guo deploys slo-mo and hazy soft focus to signal the weightiness of moments that won't affect anyone who's out of their teens.
But his film, which at first hints at a wry critique of materialism but ends up reveling in it, is a timely snapshot of aspirational glitz in the big city. Oh, the youthful ambition. Oh, the designer outfits.
"Tiny Times 2"
MPAA rating: None. In Mandarin with English and Traditional Chinese subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Playing: AMC Puente Hills 20, Rowland HeightsCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun