Ann Hui’s latest film, Our Time Will Come, is a woman’s take on what has been a guy’s subject—war. It is so easy to imagine another movie: set in the same Japanese-occupied Hong Kong during World War II, the story somehow pivots towards more familiar figures (traditionally male roles) like a hero with roguish charms, a wrongly accused spy, or even a prosecuted intellectual. None of whom occupies Hui’s sole interest, instead, her story revolves around an unlikely heroine, a gentle schoolteacher and her mother. (PTS: 3.5/5)
Review by FF2 Media Intern Peier Tracy Shen
After the Japanese Imperial Army took Hong Kong in 1941, the Chinese Communist Party set out to carry Leftist intellectuals and artists to safety, whose lives are threatened by the invaders. One of them happens to be the most celebrated writer, Mao Tun (Guo Tao). He lives with Mrs. Fong (Deannie Yip), a shrewd and calculated woman, trying to survive the war. And if the first impressions of Mrs. Fong isn’t favorable, it will soon change. But it is in these circumstances that we are introduced to Lan (Xun Zhou), a quiet romantic and animal lover, who is just a girl next door.
Lan rejects her fiancé Kam-wing (Wallace Huo) on her birthday as he departs to work as a double agent. And on the day of Tun’s departure, the rescue mission goes wrong and Blackie (Eddie Peng) asks for Lan’s help, and her love for Tun’s prose leads her to guide the escape route for the writer and his family. Encouraged by Blackie, she joins the resistance soon afterward. How does the story for the rest of these characters unfold? More or less to what we could expect. Loss.
The movie overall has a quiet pacing, a naturally deglamorizing version of the war. Comparing it to some of the classic war movies such as Chuan’s City of Life and Death or Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, even to the recent release of Dunkirk, Our Time Will Come has a rare composure. It feels no need to startle the audience with disturbing bullet sounds or grotesque images. There is a subtle reversion of expectation here: life does not suddenly change when the war comes. Hui’s characters somehow succeed to preserve a degree of humanity in the most desperate situation. Mrs. Fong still combs her hair to impeccability; Lan reads poetry; Kam-wing develops an unlikely friendship with Japanese colonel Yamaguchi (Masatoshi Nagase); and even Blackie enjoys a little humor here and there throughout his guerilla rescue mission. These details, albeit trivial, leave a lasting mark on Hui’s film—beautiful people try to live beautifully in an ugly world.
Still, the combat scenes are not the best. Some of the bullet-flying, slow motion sequences are definitely a little jarring in the eyes of a modern audience. But Hui’s storytelling technique is certainly inventive: mimicking a semi-documentary aesthetic, Our Time Will Come often cuts to mock interviews in black and white between Hui herself and actor Tony Ka-fai Leung as Ben, a taxi driver now in contemporary Hong Kong who worked as a messenger under Lan. Framing her story with a living witness renders her work heavy as a piece of history.
Additionally, the film might be at fault with its meandering narrative style. There are simply too many strands of narrative, and truth to be told, too many supporting characters with uneven performances, such as a loud and distracting Ivana Wong. Unfortunately, these less important sequences still serve as a major distraction from the main dramatic tension. However, Zhou and Yip are excellent, and their screen presence is always able to pull back focus. Some of the most memorable moments come from the daily activities of mother and daughter: their bantering over Lan’s suitors, their intimate dinners, and their fights over Lan’s decision to participate in the guerillas all reflect a much more nuanced and unaffected maternal relationship that will, if we are lucky, remind us of our ties with our own mothers.
Though flawed, Our Time Will Come is a gem. What Hui does best—those intimate moments between mother and daughter and even the fine-drawn tension between man and woman (a rare look into romance in today’s overtly sexualized relationship of the sexes)—put the movie to an aesthetic of its own. The film has a deceptively simple appearance, but we are compelled to listen to what it has to say.
© Peier Tracy Shen (7/30/17) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Lan (Xun Zhou)
Middle Photo: Blackie (Eddie Peng)
Bottom Photo: Xun Zhou
Photo Credits: China Lion
Does Our Time Will Come pass the Bechdel Wallace test?
Lan’s conversations with her mother and her female comrades are some of the moving sequences in the movie.