Flavors of Youth is an anthology movie, collecting together three short tales (The Rice Noodes, A Little Fashion Show and Love in Shangai) with a core theme of love and loss. Each of the three films is set in a different part of China, although the over riding themes surrounding love and loss encompass friends, families and unrequited love.
The Rice Noodles introduces us to Xiao Ming, who reminisces about his youth, eating noodles with his Grandma and the girl he dreamed of as he grew older. In The Rice Noodles we are looking back at a time where people valued time, passion and care and this is reflected in Xiao Mings narration surrounding the creation of his favourite San Xian Noodles and the relationship he developed with his Grandmother as they spent every morning together outside the noodle shop. We follow him into his adolescence and his devotion to visiting his new favourite noodle shop, partially for the noodles, but also so he could catch a glimpse of the girl he fancied who never noticed him. As we follow him into adulthood his noodle consumption is one of convenience which he finds unsatisfying and it isn’t until his Grandmother passes away that he begins to reminisce for the noodle bars of his youth. The one element that stood out in this for me is the love and care that the author and animators have put into the scenes detailing how the San Xian Noodles were created and the reasons for the methods that the cooks would use. It left me with a hankering for Ramen, although diving into the cupboard for some instant Ramen (bought from our excellent local Chinese store) wouldn’t have been as satisfying as the chicken and sweetcorn noodle soup my other half used to make.
A Little Fashion show deals with two sets of relationships. The core focus is that between model Yi Lin and her sister Lulu who is a fashion student. The relationship between the two begins to falter as Yi Lins modelling career and relationships within that industry are suddenly challenged by new girl Shui Jing. As Yi Lin begins to push herself harder she also begins to push those that care for her further away until she ultimately becomes unwell. Upon leaving hospital, her sister and closest friend (who also happens to be her manager) have created their own fashion show especially for her and its through this that the two sisters grow closer together allowing both girls to achieve their career dreams simultaneously. There were times that I felt A Little Fashion show could have been more interesting, even within its short run time (although it felt longer than the other two), the tensions seemed to be resolved far too easily and the competition between Yi Lin and Shui Jing never really amounted to anything controversial. I couldn’t help thinking that some of the ideas here were done better in Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue which ultimately led to A Little Fashion Show being the less entertaining of the three films offered here.
Lastly we had Love in Shangai, which deals with a more standard unrequited love tale. In Love in Shangai we follow Li Mo and Xiao Yu, whom both have strong feelings for each other although neither ever fully admits it. When Li Mo tells Xiao Yu and their mutual friend that she’s applying for one of the top schools Xiao Yu becomes determined to shake his slacker image and also pass the entrance exam to attend. This he manages, unforunately Li Mo doesnt and her father beats her ultimately putting her into hospital. The budding relationship between the two falls down due to the distance between them but we’re shown just how intense their feelings are for each other due to some cassette tapes the pair record of the conversations that they have. We leave the story on a bit of cliffhanger as Xiao Yu has returned to Shangai and its inferred that Li Mo visits him at his new place of work.
Flavors of Youth as a complete package then is rather soft and fluffy, at just over an hour long theres not really room for any of the three stories to breath properly, although the foundations are there for something more. Its undoubtedly very pretty, with some wonderful landscape shots and as already mentioned the scenes of noodles being made will leave you salivating. Unfortunately the relationships are just too basic and leave the viewer wanting a little more meat on the bone. Don’t get me wrong, Flavors of Youth isn’t a bad movie, but when theres other options out there, such as the wonderful Your Name or The Girl Who Leapt Through Time that will easily fulfill any romantic itch, this is one thats best enjoyed for its visuals.