Fragrance of the First Flower (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Still attracted to each other

Taiwanese film “Fragrance of the First Flower” is a familiar but engaging melodrama about two women who still cannot help but attracted to each other despite several years of separation between them. As alternating between their past and present, the movie lets us know more about their emotional bond as well as the complicated circumstance surrounding them, and we come to care more about them as their emotional journey eventually culminates to an important moment of decision for both of them.

The movie opens with an accidental encounter between Ting Ting (Lyan Cheng) and Yi Ming (Zaizai Lin) at the wedding ceremony of their mutual schoolmate. At first, they look just pleased to see each other again after their high school years, and we later see them spending a little more time together, before Yi Ming returns to her residence where she lives with her husband and their little son.

Not long after that, Yi Ming decides to meet Ting Ting again for their old time’s sake, and Ting Ting has no problem at all with seeing her again. As they talk more with each other, they become more friendly to each other, and Ting Ting is eventually introduced to Yi Ming’s family thanks to a little accidental encounter between her and them.

In the meantime, the movie goes back to the past between Yi Ming and Ting Ting during their high school period in the early 1990s. When they first came across each other, Ting Ting was a freshman who had just started her first year at their school, and Yi Ming was a confident senior who had also been the captain of the volleyball team of their school. Right from when she saw Yi Ming, Ting Ting found herself quite attracted to Yi Ming, and that was the main reason why she came to join the volleyball team.

When Ting Ting eagerly approached to her, Yi Ming did not mind much because it was nice to have someone willing to be under her wings, but, what do you know, they soon became each other’s best friend. As they spent more time together, they shared a lot of feelings and thoughts between them, and, of course, there eventually came a point where Ting Ting showed more of her infatuation with Yi Ming. While perplexed a little at first, Yi Ming did not reject Ting Ting’s affection at all, and that made them much closer to each other, though Yi Ming mostly regarded Ting Ting as her best friend.

As remembering those old times with Ting Ting, Yi Ming naturally finds herself drawn more to her, but things are now more complicated for her. Although homosexuality has been accepted much more than before in her society, she is still afraid of admitting more of how she is still attracted to Ting Ting, and, above all, she cannot simply walk away from her family life right now. While she is frequently frustrated with her plain and dull husband who usually takes everything for granted, she still cares a lot about the welfare of their little son who is incidentally on autism spectrum, and disrupting her son’s daily life is certainly the last thing she wants.

As Yi Ming becomes more conflicted about her feelings toward Ting Ting, we also get to know more about how they became estranged to each other during that time. Due to one very unpleasant incident at one night, Ting Ting almost exposed her relationship with Yi Ming to others at the school, and Yi Ming was not so pleased about that at all. She began to distance herself more from Ting Ting as time went by, and they eventually became all the more separated from each other than before when Yi Ming subsequently began her college years.

Directed by Angel Ihan Teng, the movie is actually the condensed feature film version of the first season of a popular streaming service drama series. I have not seen the drama series yet, but I can tell you that the movie itself mostly works well without much narrative gap. Although there are some visible interruptions, the movie steadily develops its story and characters on the whole, and it also pays some attention to a few other main figures around Yi Ming and Ting Ting.

In the end, there comes an expected moment as Yi Ming and Ting Ting come to confront their situation with total honesty, and we surely get a substantial amount of tears, but the movie sticks to its restrained mode even at that point. Our two heroines are reminded again of how much they are still emotionally attached to each other, but there are also some serious issues to deal with in one way or another, and they will have to tackle them if both of them are really ready to take another forward step toward each other.

The movie is firmly carried by the strong lead performances from its two good actresses. While Lyan Cheng’s charming performance functions as the main catalyst for the dramatic tension throughout the film, Zaizai Lin is terrific whenever her character quietly struggles with her complicated matters of heart, and they constantly click with each other well as their characters push or pull each other along the story. In case of a few main cast members surrounding them, Lee Yi acquits himself well despite his rather thankless supporting role, and the movie thankfully does not allow any pity on his incorrigibly insensitive character.

Overall, “Fragrance of the First Flower” is a modest but solid queer melodrama to be appreciated for its sensitive mood and storytelling, and you may also get interested in checking out that drama series (Its second season is already being in production, by the way). Although it does not exceed my expectation, I appreciate its strong elements nonetheless, and I recommend you to give it a chance someday.

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