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February 16, 2011

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Sweet memories of days gone by

SWEPT up in frenetic pursuits of modern life, the post-1980s generation yearns for simpler, idealized times. A new film "Eternal Moment" is a trip down memory lane. Bai Xu and Ren Liying report.

To many Chinese in their 20s or 30s, the film "Eternal Moment," which premiered just before the Valentine's Day, is more than a movie. It's a nostalgic trip back to seemingly carefree days and a bittersweet look at what can happen to love.

"Eternal Moment" ("Jiang Aiqing Jinxing Daodi") is the sequel to a hit TV series from 12 years ago, and it revives memories of viewers' teen years - years that have been idealized in retrospect.

The theme song once again resonate in the streets: "At the corner where we met, people still come and go ... mourning for our adolescence ..."

"In this movie, we try to show to our audiences some possibilities of what can happen to a pair of young lovers after 12 years," says director Zhang Yibai, who also directed the original TV series.

More than 530 screenings of the film were held in Shanghai on the Valentine's Day, raking in nearly 3.4 million yuan (US$515,000) in box office. Shanghai United Cinema Lines reported altogether 6 million yuan in box office since the film's national release on February 12.

At the corner

In 1998, a 20-episode TV series called "Cherish Our Love Forever" was the first youth drama on the Chinese mainland and created a stir nationwide. It featured two college students, Yang Zheng and Wen Hui, who fell in love on campus but broke up at the end.

Director Zhang says that when the series first aired 12 years ago, his expectations were not high and he doubted its staying power. "Later, when people told me that the series was welcome and even shaped the view of love of many young people, I thought they were flattering me," he says.

Over the past 12 years, many people advised him to make a film but he refused until finally Xu Jinglei, the lead actress in the TV series, joined his advisors.

The movie features three possible sequels in three cities: in Beijing, Yang and Wen marry but find that their love fades; in Shanghai, the pair meet again after separating 12 years ago and find something is happening between them; and in Bordeaux, France, Yang receives a phone call from Wen and they fall in love again.

"I want to convey to our audience that whatever happens, no matter whether you are 18 or 31, the loyalty to those you love should always be there," Zhang says.

People come, go

The director met his girlfriend in 1998, when he was aged 48 and they were both making the TV series.

"To cherish our love means to preserve the ability to love, despite twists and turns," he says.

The lights were off in a cinema in Shijiazhuang, capital city of northern China's Hebei Province. The old theme song started, signaling the beginning of the movie. Wang Juwei, 28, covered her mouth with her hand and fought back tears.

"I was 16 when I first watched the TV series," she says. "After that I began to realize 'wow, that's love'." She says the TV series created a dream for her of romance on campus.

"As soon as the song started, I knew I couldn't control my emotions," says 29-year-old Gou Zhe. "It was a complex sentiment. We have reached the age of reminiscing."

In fact, as early as last year when director Zhang announced that he would make the movie, Internet users voiced their excitement. Shooting started in May 2010.

"After watching the TV series, I swore to myself that I would go to the seaside with my boyfriend in the future," says a user named "Tangtangxiaowei." In the TV series, the heroine, Wen Hui, holds a cell phone near the ocean to let her boyfriend listen to the sound of the waves.

"That was the age of innocence. There were no skyrocketing housing prices, and college students could easily find a job. I longed for a life like those in the TV series, to strive for a better future," she writes on, a website for film and book reviews.

A user named Chen says it was the memory of their teenage years that gave viewers a special affinity for the movie.

"After we grow up, things like love are no longer as simple as they seemed to us when we were young," he says. "Some of our dreams were realized, some were not ... As the generation born in the 1980s, we felt the burden of life become heavier with the passage of time. The movie "Eternal Moment" is a wish that beautiful things can last forever."

Lost youth

Many online posts from the post-1980s generation show pictures of the food and toys people used in the 1980s. One 26-year-old poster who calls himself Xiao Li owns the online shop called "Memory Hall of the Post-1980s Generation."

"I traveled to markets all over China to search for old things from the old days," he says. From erasers to cartoon pictures, from building blocks to enamel cups, the shop displays 166 items of nostalgia.

Each month he sells an average of 1,000 items, not a big business. But he's riding a wave of sentimentality.

A new T-shirt today features Han Meimei and Li Lei, a girl and a bespectacled boy who appeared in English-language textbooks for middle school students from 1990 to 2000. Hundreds of millions of students read the books. Songs and dramas were produced about the imaginary love affair of the two characters.

A new edition in 2009 features Han, who is married and has children, but her husband is not Li.

It's quite understandable that the post-1980s generation feels nostalgic, says Zhang Sining, a research fellow at the Liaoning Provincial Academy of Social Sciences.

"The fast pace of society makes young people frustrated and lonely and as a result they begin to miss the old days when they were carefree," he says.

Zhang also observes that with economic development comes the search for spiritual fulfillment. "Memories of the old times can soothe their hearts," he says.


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