Saturday, December 20, 2014

Back in Time

I feel kind of weird making some of the complaints I have about Back in Time - is it really my place to complain that the guys in this movie are putting pressure on the ladies? I always feel uncomfortable getting offended on someone else's behalf, although if I'm legitimately uncomfortable watching it, it's worth mentioning.

Still, the end... Well, I'll put it at the end.

Cong Cong Na Nian (Back in Time aka Fleet of Time)

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 December 2014 at Regal Fenway #11 (first-run, DCP)

It can be kind of interesting to watch a movie like Back in Time ("Cong Cong Na Nian" in the original Mandarin, translated onscreen as "Fleet of Time") which comes from another culture, though often kind of puzzling: It's at least partly someone else's nostalgia, and if you don't know the late-1990s mandopop song accompanying a scene, you may be missing the punchline. Then again, it's not like the movies that make an appeal to one's own youth generally wind up being very good beyond that knee-jerk reaction, even without this movie's specific problems.

It starts in the present day, with thirty-ish Chen Xun (Eddie Peng Yu-yan) drunkenly telling others in a bar that he punted thirteen points on his college entry exam for a girl, which gets the attention of Seven (Liu Ya-se), a younger woman elsewhere in the room. He wakes up in her hotel room the next morning and eventually tells a bit of how he met and fell for transfer student Feng Hui (Ni Ni) fifteen years ago, in 1999. The story also involves his high-school friends Zhao Ye (Ryan Zheng Kai), Lin Jimao (Zhang Zixuan), and Qiao Ran (Vision Wei Chan), but he doesn't give it that much thought until he reunites with Ye as the latter's wedding approaches. Seven turns out to be Ye's wedding photographer, and she's got a way of steering conversations toward flashbacks.

There's kind of a weird disconnect to those flashbacks, though: They're tremendously sentimental, with show pans meant to make sure the audience breathes every lovingly recreated detail in, but often the main impression that comes through is that guys that age are kind of jerks. The oblivious basketball captain Jimao has a crush on often comes off the best because he is hurting her feelings in a completely passive way, unlike Chen Xun, who is constantly putting the shy Hui into situations where she has to react backed into a corner or with people watching. It's fairly mild as these things go and the girls have their own sorts of weird behavior, but seeing this as Chen Xun's lost, perfect love is kind of off-putting of you give it a moment or two of thought.

Full review at EFC.


I wonder how many other people spent more time than necessary wondering if there was some way Seven could be Hui's daughter or some other family member without getting to the obvious-in-retrospect relationship. Maybe not completely obvious - after an hour forty-five or so of everyone matching up boy/girl, we find out Seven and Hui are lovers, and while it does explain why Feng Hui and Chen Xun never made love during their three-year relationship, it did leave me wondering somewhat whether how normal that would be in China. Chen Xun, really, seemed to be the one who was more uptight about sex when the subject came up. Not that that really means anything, but it means the one thing that was really pointing this way was diluted.

Then again, maybe it was not the only thing pointed in that direction. Gay characters seem relatively rare in Chinese films - the only other ones I remember seeing recently were the couple in Breakup Buddies, and that was sort of the same thing; a gotcha moment when the audience realized that she was gay. I don't know enough about where that sort of thing sits in Chinese culture these days to know if I was missing something, perhaps in her father's behavior. Seeing as there were other indications that mainland Chinese culture was kind of conservative around sex - Chen Xun really seems to get bent out of shape about premarital sex, not to mention the way people were swarming around Feng Hui at the clinic - it seems like kind of a big deal.

And, man, that scene in the clinic, where Hui's professor is brought in and there seems to be a lot of preparation to shame until Chen Xun decides to fall on the sword... Some of the more uncomfortable scenes in the movie, and something I think is done a bit of a disservice by being left in the background. That's a dramatic situation that could use a bit of light aimed in its direction, but instead it just serves as a dramatically weird moment that severs Chen Xun's ties with both the woman he should actually be with and the one he stood up for. Really, it's downright weird how the film makes that scene about Chen Xun, while Feng Hui is suffering through an abortion without anesthesia for sleeping with the wrong guy.

I kind of wonder what happened after that, how the shy girl who had stumbled to fit in got to a point where she realized something basic about herself and found happiness and confidence. That seems like a heck of a much more interesting story than the guy who pestered his way into a relationship with a girl, pushed her away (with a girl that was a better fit anyway), and then blew that, but it's okay because she turned out to be gay anyway. The movie really seems to miss the point of who had an interesting story to tell.


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