Love, in all its fantasy and reality.

Being in love is like actually owning a unicorn. Bear with me another few sentences. Love is a fantastic thing, and I don’t just mean that in the typical sense, but in the literal one as well. Love is a fantasy, the process of falling into it is a fairy tale we live, it is an experience that in our heightened emotional dope-haze we exaggerate, even mythologize. But love has to exist in the real world. This fantastic thing, it has to function within the rigid, mundane, passionless parameters of our everyday lives. For the sake of completing the metaphor I opened with, you have to feed the unicorn, you have to stable it, brush its coat, you have to take it to the unicorn vet when it gets sick or its shots are due, and yeah, you have to shovel that unicorn’s shit. Just like being in love. Metaphorically, I mean.

I might not be doing the best job getting at what I’m trying to get at, but luckily for all of us Beijing-based Malaysian director Michael Wong nails this complex dichotomy right in the heart in The Story of 90 Coins, the screenplay for which was written by Gao Xiaofei based on a story by Jackie Bai. The synopsis:

‘The Story of 90 Coins’ unfolds through a special promise of love and happiness made by one male passionate lover to a seemingly reluctant girl. Ninety coins symbolize ninety days the guy gives himself to convince the girl to marry him by showing her his true color and prove his intentions. Everything seems to go quite well as the two, in fact, fall in love. But time passes and the romance bubble deflates as reality breaks in with its daily routine, ambiguity, and incomprehension. Will they be able to overcome this critical passage or will they put an end to what it started so pure and beautiful?

Wong’s film induces the loveliest of cinematic trances. When it was over, I was a little surprised to see it was just shy of ten minutes long; it has an emotional depth and resonance that makes its impact like that of a feature-length romance, and in fact more powerful than most modern tripe in that genre. There are no rose-colored glasses here, or if there are, Wong, his writers and actors (Han Dongjun, Zhuang Zhiqi) draw attention to the artifice of their field of vision. And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the elegant, graceful, and serene cinematography of Jian Liwei; this film is as gorgeous visually as it is narratively.

The Story of 90 Coins has received more than 50 accolades from all over the world – including Best Foreign Short at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, Best Short Film at the Universal Film Festival, and a Rising Star Award at the Canada International Film Festival, all in 2016 – and nine minutes and 23 seconds after you click play below you’re going to know why. Staggering work here, worthy of all your attention.