The 2018 edition of the New York Asian Film Festival offered a very eclectic selection. Among the more commercial movies the NYAFF featured was the first Chinese movie made by Taiwanese director Kevin Ko: “Dude’s Manual”.
He Xiaoyan is finishing university. Because of an incident that happened at the beginning of his college-time, the young man earned the nickname ‘Air-Pump’. In other words, no girls want to be seen with this pervert and he doesn’t even dare to dream about losing his virginity. The problem is that the whole campus believes that Guan Xin, one of the most popular girls, is seeing the unlucky young man. The beautiful lady decides to take matters into her own hands and to make a couple out of Air-Pump and Li Shushu, other campus-beauty.
Parallelly to the trio story, we also follow the adventures of Xiaoyan’s two (and apparently only) friends. One is hooking up with his friend but has to deal with the young girl’s reaction when she is taking some distance. The other one thinks he can buy his girlfriend’s love with money.
The movie is an entertaining romantic comedy. It shows that love is not always something that can be planned and that every story is different. Moreover, “Dude’s Manual” has a coming-of-age aspect that is nice. Nonetheless, a few questions emerge. We can wonder why a 2018 feature keeps on perpetuating some romantic clichés. Even if love is unpredictable and, in the end, it is implied that there is room for spontaneity, Xiaoyang manages to ‘get the girl’ with Guan Xin’s help and theories about dating. Does it mean that love, or at least seduction and dating, is a science? Furthermore, why is it such a big deal to leave college being a virgin? Also, can two grown-ups have sex without developing romantic feelings?
What is more, some questions emerge gender-wise. If the targeted audience is mostly female, why is the main character and the object of identification male? Why do the two female characters lack depth and nuance? Guan Xin is the embodiment of the beautiful and sexy girl (as shown over and over) who is tough but has a reason for it. Li Shushu, on the other hand, is the embodiment of the sweet and pure girl, almost a mother figure.
Technically, “Dude’s Manual” doesn’t bring anything new to the rom-com world, but meets the standards successfully. We are never bored, the pace is fast, the colours are bright, the editing is smooth. The new emerging actors, Dong Zijian and Elane Zhong, offer decent performances.
In conclusion, “Dude’s Manual” is an entertaining and funny rom-com, but isn’t ground-breaking. It makes the viewer wonder more largely about the perpetuation of romance and gender ideas in romantic comedies.