The Story of 90 Coins is not your typical love story about instant connections. Instead, it’s about how friendship can grow to be the truest of true love. Director Michael Wong was able to transform Bai Xuedan’s screenplay into a tender story about two people’s path towards each other.
Set in Beijing, Wang Yuyang (Han Dongjun) proposes to Chen Wen (Zhuang Zhiqi) and promises to show her how deep his love is in ninety days, represented by 90 coins. It’s a story about devotion, but not avoiding the reality of life and responsibilities. They are both young professionals trying to develop their future careers, with love playing an interesting role in between the lines.
For a short film to express the tenderness found between a couple is no simple feat, but a combination of multiple elements coming together perfectly. The casting of Han and Zhuang was serendipitous. This was Zhuang’s first film, yet she was able to showcase a passion within Chen that some veteran actresses can’t fully develop. From the moment Wong was introduced to her, he fell in love with her energy and knew she was right for the part.
“During the preliminary casting session in Beijing, Zhuang Zhiqi was in Hong Kong and could not attend the session. But she e-mailed over a casting video filmed with her smartphone and edited it by herself and that got me falling in love with her attitude,” Wong says.
As for Han, Wong was able to get on the ground floor of an exploding entity. After Han’s participation in the web-streaming show Wu Xin: The Monster Killer, he became an instant heartthrob. To us, however, he will always be the sweet man who is devoted to his love.
“It was a privilege to have cast Han Dongjun as the male protagonist, as he is not just an eye candy but proven himself with delivering such great performance on-set,” Wong adds.
The other aspect that worked in magnificent favor within the story was the city of Beijing. Filmmakers absorb a lot of the energy of the city they film in, but with Beijing they encountered more then they could hope for. A perfect example of how to use an obstacle to your advantage.
“Initially, we would like to shoot the film in Shanghai or elsewhere rather than in the capital to avoid the infamous smog pollution. However, due to budget constrain, we ended up filming on home ground since most of the crews are from Beijing,” Wong explains. “Ironically, the pollution seems to be to our advantage as it gives the film a beautiful atmospheric look, which I think is hard to recreate in the first place. The smog gives a nice depth to the imagery and somehow romanticized the scenes. This is especially noticeable in all the night shots!”
Having a background in art direction, Wong was able to bring something forward through the visuals that other may have missed. With so much attention in recent trends to focus on character, which I am a huge fan of, this just shows that the world around us can be inspiration for stories as well.
“Being trained as an art director and then a creative director in the advertising agency world, I tend to think about concept and story first. I then build the characters around it,” Wong adds.
What I was attracted to the most was how elegant love was portrayed in the short film. It wasn’t an immediate categorization of “love at first sight.” I believe the best love stories are the ones where the couple fall in love with each other on an intense level, one that bypasses the outer shell of existence. Wong felt exactly the same way.
“The crux of the story (coin sealed in brown envelopes) is based on a true story. It did happened with two people, who happened to be a friend of the scriptwriter. It wasn’t a ‘love at first sight’ as I would like the storyline to have more depth and layers,” Wong says. “Their relationship started off as a normal friendship of two university mates (in the original 15 minutes storyline) and their relationship builds up through thick and thin. It is more interesting then, to reveal most of what they’ve been through when all had ended.”
The film has received over 40 accolades in the various film festivals it has been a part of, including the Best Drama and Cinematography at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Best Foreign Short and Best Actress at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, Rising Star Award for Foreign Film at the Canada International Film Festival, Official Finalist at the London Film Awards, with many more festivals down the road. The accolades, while abundantly deserved, is not the most impressive thing about the films festival runs. It’s the fact that this film is about an Asian couple, produced by an Asian crew, in one of the largest Asian cities. This film is an ideal film, a story and its company crossing boundaries to tell a universal story.
As they say, we are all stories in the end, no matter what our backstories are.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images courtesy of The Story of 90 Coins