Flavors of Youth Review

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Flavors of Youth is an anthology of three short films, each giving us a glimpse at the life of a young adult living in China. The films are not woven together, but instead share and are built on the same set of themes: nostalgia, youth, sense of belonging and love.

In The Rice Noodles we follow Xiao Ming’s childhood in a small village in Hunan. Ming has had a life-long passion for a certain noodle dish called San Xian and as such his nostalgic trip to the past takes on vibrant culinary colors. He uses his food adventures as a vehicle for recounting his life; starting with his early childhood memories with his grandmother, through his first love, and up to his disdain with his current social life as an adult.

A little Fashion Show focuses on clothing model Yi Lin, who lives in Guangzhou together with her sister. Yi Lin is a veteran in the modeling field who’s used to having things go her way. But when a young and promising girl manages to snatch a modeling job from her Yi Lin loses her confidence and spirals down a road that might lead to her quitting modeling altogether.

Rounding up the anthology is Love in Shanghai, the charming love story of two teenagers. Li Mo and Xiao Yu express their feelings for each other by recording them onto a tape cassette and constantly passing that cassette back and forth between them. Things change when Xiao Yu announces she will move to a prestigious high school, which Li Mo will be unable to attend due to his low grades. Li Mo decides to study frantically in order to remain close to his love, but his actions inadvertently end up causing their relationship to end prematurely.

Flavors of Youth does a great job of portraying China. A lot of care went into crafting the backgrounds for all three short films and as a result we get to experience a wide array of environments. The attention to detail doesn’t stop at the scenery. The food, clothes and architectural structures, which are of thematic importance to the three films, are evenly detailed and make the stories more tangible. The pacing is also perfect, with each film concluding in a satisfying manner without overstaying its welcome.

Where the films diverge is in the scope and quality of their story. The Rice Noodles makes a somewhat mundane trip to one’s childhood fascinating by having the entire film narrated by Xiao Ming himself. Even though the story itself is short and self-centered, the succinct and intricate way in which Ming expresses himself coupled with the delicious food on display quickly cemented this film as my favorite of the lot.
Love in Shanghai, does not take itself as seriously or express itself as eloquently, but the love story at its core is relatable. Li Mo’s passionate personality made me want to cheer for him and despite the length of the film I felt it managed to capture a hefty portion of Li Mo and Xiao Yu’s childhood. In addition, the old, crumbling neighborhood in which they used to live as kids creates its own little magical maze. It not only feels like 90’s in China but also fits perfectly with Li Mo’s architectural occupation and the way he views the world as an adult retelling one’s childhood.
A little Fashion Show is unfortunately the weakest part of Flavors of Youth. The film begins with Yi Lin boasting about how successful and determined she is as a model. And yet soon after she loses that determination over a somewhat trifle event. Her inconsistent personality, coupled with her capricious nature, made it hard for me to care for her as a character. The themes and motifs that play an important role in the other films are noticeably absent from this one, making it shallow in comparison. To add insult to injury, a certain plot point proves too cliché to be believable and it is questionable whether it was even needed when conveying an otherwise quite straightforward down to earth story.

Rarely do we get to experience a concise and endearing rendition of childhood in China the way it is presented in Flavors of Youth. The execution and emotional weight these films carry make them a joy to watch. Each film has its own protagonist, its own locations and its own artistic vision. However, the films in this anthology are simple in nature and their stories don’t really intertwine. This feels like a missed opportunity as a more direct correlation between the three could have added an extra layer of complexity to the stories, perhaps even supporting the weaker of the bunch. But overall, Flavors of Youth still offers a rich, enjoyable and impactful experience well worth watching.


Pros:

  • - Smart use of themes and motifs enriches the plot.
  • - Beautiful attention to details.

Cons:

  • - A little Fashion Show is inconsistent and underwhelming.

Final Score: 7/10 (Good)





Product Information: Flavors of Youth (shikioriori). Streamed on Netflix. Release Date: August 4, 2018.

Review Equipment: A Sony Bravia LCD HDTV (KDL-42W700B) connected to a PS4 using a ver. 1.4 HDMI cable.

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