This article asks what a sustained ethnographic approach to media reception can teach us about the processes of identification and disavowal that take place when audiences consume media that for them is both fictional and realistic. Focusing on Chinese viewers' responses to the film Shuang zhuo (Twin Bracelets), I examine the commentaries generated in the context of film viewing and show how they enabled viewers to redefine representational genres and potentially reclaim personal and community histories. At the same time, I also elucidate common themes that appear in the viewers' own stories and in the genre they sought to contest. These commonalities grant viewers a form of authorial agency while simultaneously reinforcing existing modes of representing their lives. The article integrates approaches from linguistic and sociocultural anthropology with film theory to consider how spectators both engage with media texts and mediate the relationship between their present and past lives through different representational forms.