Sunday 9 July 2017

The Current Cinema - OUR TIME WILL COME - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison sends in a second view. Plus notes from Michael Jasper and John Snadden

Time was a new film by Ann Hui was going to be the highlight of my viewing. Though Tiaohui/Jumping Ash did anticipate her first film Fung gip/The Secret as the new form of Hong Kong cinema, it was Ann Hui most often cited as the template for the more modern, spherical lense films which edged out the Shaw Brothers' dominance. Her Tau ban no hoi/Boat People (1982) was the most successful film in Australia's Chinatown cinemas and her strike rate rivaled Tsui Hark and Sammo Hung at their zenith. Hui's Ke tu qiu hen/Song of the Exile (1990) remains a peak achievement in the Hong Kong film.

She is still a major figure but her work is more of a lucky dip these days. For every lively Yi ma de hou xian dai sheng huo/The Postmodern Life of My Aunt you're going to get something more ponderous. 

Xun Zhou
Her new Ming Yue Ji Shi You/Our Time Will Come  is a prestige event celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the mainland take over of Hong Kong. It kicks off in 1941 when the Chinese Donjiang ‘East River’ guerrilla unit is tasked with rescuing the island’s intellectuals from the Japanese occupation. The fugitives change into worker clothes and discard their felt hats when they notice that the invaders treat people in suits differently only to find that they were treating them better. A scene-setting visit to the movies has the newsreel about the might of the Japanese army interrupted by a slide telling a list of celebrities (Mei Lanfei among them) to report to the authorities.  

The film focuses in on author Tao Guo, rooming with the family of Deannie Yip and her out of work school teacher daughter, seemingly delicate Xun Zhou. He’s given a pass word to recognise his deliverers. A pair of nasties in black (the equivalent of long leather overcoats I guess) show up instead, introducing cheery, murderous  Eddie Peng and meaning that Deannie finds a blanket wrapped body in her alley way.

The escape is only the opening of a 130 minute (too) long movie following Sun’s
progress from the young woman who can’t bear to have the family bunny killed for food though they are scraping the last grains of rice from the jar, to a resistance fighter contemplating bombing and storming the Japanese troop base - the quietly made decision is the high point and most characteristic scene in the film.

Hard to see the value of the black and white framing story with long surviving Tony Ka Fai Leung (Prison on Fire) recounting events from his period as a child with the resistance.

The earlier sections of the film have action scenes like Peng taking out an armed Japanese patrol single handed or bomb bursts but the film tries to avoid being an action movie working more on a feeling of loss and on suspense - the one oar escape boat interrupted while a Japanese soldier pisses in the river in front of the barracks at dawn, Masatoshi Nagase (Mystery Train) opening his holster after giving Wallace Huo a time limit on producing a poem that makes the linguistic point he has just offered. (“All you people are good for is stealing and poetry”) We hear about a decisive encounter which has used the pilfered map rather than see it take place.

While Huo steals documents from the Kemtampei where he works, his one time fiancée Xun becomes a key courier bringing rice for the starving guerrillas and medicine to the secret herb shop hospital. Their re-union is delayed for the bulk of the film. Meanwhile every day life continues with the wedding couple reproached for traditional rice showers (“people are starving while you feed rice to chickens”) local girls entertaining the Japanese soldiers or the Chinese inspectors afraid they will get into trouble if they denounce Deannie for the silk screen propaganda leaflets she is carrying, claiming to be illiterate. This doesn’t work with the Sikh fare collectors looking for hidden bank notes, precipitating the film’s final drama.

The film’s way of  adding to the grim irony is Xun telling Peng as he sets out for the ultimate battle “Don’t let your boat topple in shallow water.” 

As with Allied it tries to re-animate the antagonisms of the WW2 propaganda movie and is devalued by it’s over familiar depiction of a sadistic enemy - stabbing the mat wrapped body roll which had contained illicit weapons, the commander who only respects his prisoner’s ability to stand after samurai sword slashes to his leg, prisoners digging their own graves with tin cans. 

Design is a strong element with the 1942-era Wan Chai brick and timber constructions and the reproduced Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter particularly striking. The river scenics are exceptional, suggesting filming by a different unit but the one which has Xun waiting for the delayed ferry at night on the pier lit by a single swinging bulb is pure Ann Hui with it’s counterpart in her best films - Song of the Exile’s isolated rail stop. 

Documentation is thin on this one. The score which I was admiring during the film turned out to be by Joe Hisashi when we got to the end credits.

Out Time Will Come is a major film from a major director, not that you'd know it from the launch here. If you can handle something that is more contemplative than exciting, you shouldn't miss it's likely to be short run in the multiplexes.

 Melbourne based Asian film enthusiast John Snadden writes: I've just got back from watching Ann Hui's new pic OUR TIME WILL COME, and it is, without doubt, an epic film of heart and mind set in Hong Kong during the darkest days of the Japanese occupation in WW2. The two mainland stars Zhou Xun and Eddy Peng are excellent, esp Peng who shows, if given a good director, he can be a first-rate actor. And a supporting cast which is hard to fault...nearly stealing the film is Canto actress Deannie Yip. At times this movie reminded me of Melville's ARMY OF SHADOWS with its ever-present fear and uncertainty of lives lived in a netherworld of deadly menace. This is an outstanding film which shouldn't be missed. 

Zhou Xun, Tony Ka Fai Leung, Our Time Will Come

Michael Jasper writes: It's a compelling, dramatic and handsome Ann Hui film of less well known history events. It demands attention from all cinephiles. Screening at least till Wednesday at Australian venues presenting Asian Films regularly in multiplexes. Google the film title and your city. It must be seen on the big screen. A broad canvas, handsome cast, superb editing by Mary Stephen and a stirring score by Joe Hisaishi.

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