SINGAPORE — Jiu Bing (Mason Lee) is a professional running pacer who literally helps set the pace for his clients. It’s the sort of job where one is always the bridesmaid and never the bride, and as he reminisces about the first time he fell in love with his childhood friend, Bo He (Shao Yu-Wei), it sets the scene for a romantic comedy that is at turns formulaic and bittersweet.
Jiu Bing and Bo He have been friends since primary school, and the movie charts the different stages of their friendship, chasing away bullies, graduating, and then entering the same university together. It’s clear that Jiu Bing doesn’t just want to protect Bo He because she’s his friend — he’s in love with her. Unfortunately for him, Bo He ends up dating someone else.
Meanwhile, Xia Tian (Tsai Jui-Hsieh), the daughter of the pastry shop owner whom Jiu Bing is renting a room from, also starts to show signs of interest in Jiu Bing.
Stand By Me bills itself as a refreshing take on the romantic comedy, but it hits many of the beats seen in scores of other similar Taiwanese or Chinese movies in the genre. Jiu Bing is clearly head over heels for Bo He from the very beginning, and his multiple awkward attempts to get her attention are a familiar trope that veer on the cringeworthy.
That Mason Lee himself looks a little too old for the role is a little distracting, for there’s a general world weariness in Jiu Bing that comes across on screen. This might be more suited for the older Jiu Bing reminiscing about his college days, but it also colours the younger version of the character and muddies Lee’s performance.
There’s also the problem in romantic comedies where the man’s advances are often plain old harassment disguised as jokes, but thankfully this problem is avoided as Jiu Bing keeps repeating that he only wants the best for Bo He, often at the expense of his own well-being.
Shao Yu-Wei and Tsai Jui-Hsieh for the most part put on solid performances for female roles that are largely cookie cutter, but the adventurous streak in the former and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of the latter will surely endear them to audiences.
Where Stand By Me does stand apart from the rest of the crowd is in its bittersweet tone. The narrative does get a little tiresome every time Jiu Bing does something ridiculous for Bo He, but in the end it’s shown that he truly values her as a friend and human being, and not just another conquest.
Score: 3/5 stars
Stand By Me opens in cinemas 14 November, 2019 (Singapore).