“I wonder how many people are like us, dare to like yet too frightened to love?” the heroine of Yeung Chiu-Hoi & Candy Ng Wing-Shan’s youth nostalgia romance The First Girl I Loved (喜歡妳是妳) reflects having made peace with youthful romantic disappointment. As the title implies, Yeung & Ng’s melancholy love story finds a young woman looking back on her first love while beginning to wonder if she may have misunderstood or overly mythologised her high school romance.
Now in her late 20s, Wing (Hedwig Tam Sin-Yin) is called back to the past by a phone call from her high school best friend Sylvia (Renci Yeung) who unexpectedly asks her to be the Maid of Honour at her wedding. Wing explains that she doesn’t like wearing dresses and would usually turn the invitation down but on this occasion she can’t because Sylvia was the first girl she ever loved. Long years of friendship eventually blossomed into teenage romance but while same sex relationships might have been more acceptable than they once were, they are not condoned by the private catholic girl’s high school the pair attend which calls their parents in after they’re spotted kissing on a bus by a passing teacher.
Though Wing’s mother is a little taken aback, neither of the girls’ fathers thinks it’s a particularly big deal if for less than progressive reasons in that as Sylvia’s father puts it nothing “bad” can happen between two girls and he’d be much less relaxed if she’d been hanging around with a boy while Wing’s agrees that it’s probably just a phase and they “won’t look back” once they’ve met the right guy. The girls meanwhile seem to flit between despair and youthful romantic idealism, Sylvia who’d earlier been the more proactive in pursuing a relationship later conceding that perhaps it is a phase after all when her otherwise sympathetic father advises her to keep a low profile in order to avoid losing her scholarship because their family is poor. More secure in her middle-class comfort, Wing is minded to fight for love, saving up to buy a ring Sylvia had admired on a shopping trip and insisting that if growing up means denying their feelings for each other she’d rather remain a child. But then for unclear reasons Wing is the one who later betrays their love in agreeing to perform a public apology admitting that her relationship with Sylvia is “shameful and unacceptable” while Sylvia tears hers up and simply leaves having planned to take full responsibility while refusing to apologise for her feelings.
The relationship between the two women continues to ebb and flow, leaving the older Wing wondering if they were ever really in the same story or if they simply remember their high school relationship differently. Perhaps to Sylvia they really were just admittedly intense “good friends” as she was fond of saying rather than the doomed lovers Wing has branded them as in her mind. Then again could it just be that Sylvia has chosen conventionality out of a lack of courage to fight for love, Wing wondering if Sylvia has decided to marry now in order to escape a pact they’d made to reunite if neither of them had married by 30 implying that Sylvia had never been able to let of the idea that anything other than a heteronormative marriage is necessarily a failure.
Time does indeed seem to be a factor, the girls recreating the one minute scene from Days of Being Wild with a clock which has no second hand symbolising the timelessness of their youthful love while forever afterwards they seem to be haunted by ticking clocks implying that their romance has a shelf life. Even so, Yeung & Ng try to have their cake and eat it too, the climactic wedding taking place on a symbolic level between Sylvia and Wing echoing their mock high school wedding as they walk down the aisle together with Sylvia pained and conflicted in her choice while Wing reflects that they will always be “best friends” no matter what happens in the future having reclaimed her happy memories of her high school love reassured by Sylvia’s coded reactions that love is really what it was that existed between them. Replete with early 2000s nostalgia, Yeung & Ng’s tragic romance nevertheless ends on a hopeful note in managing to salvage the friendship from a faded love even if lacking the courage to fight for authenticity in an often conservative society.
The First Girl I Loved screens 13th/16th March as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022
Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)