I mentioned in the “Next Week” post that it was kind of frustrating that a bunch of good stuff (or at least interesting stuff) came out the same weekend that the sci-fi festival started, so there’s a lot of choosing spots and hoping other stuff will stick around. Lego Batman and John Wick 2 look like they’ll hang around, but the Chinese movie with the weird name? Maybe not.
The local audience, at least, seemed to like it; there were a couple name-drops and references that I naturally didn’t get, but that’s to be expected. It probably didn’t help me any that I’d read the latest volume of the Back to the Future comics that IDW is doing with Bob Gale - a case of how having the creator involved can really cause things to click into place in a way that other revivals don’t - and that made comparisons to those movies more inevitable and unfavorable.
I wonder if some of the weakness I found was a matter of dealing with the censor board; I note in the review that you can kind of see the bad element in this town as being connected to Hong Kong, but I wonder if filmmakers get kind of skittish about (non-Monkey King) fantasy, and so they had to build this so that any time-travel bits could just be a dream, cutting off what they could actually do with the story.
Ceng feng po lang (Duckweed)
* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 February 2017 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)
The credits for Duckweed include thanks for the”wisdom” of James Cameron’s The Terminator, Jeannot Szwarc’s Somewhere in Time, and Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future, and though I haven’t seen the second, I wonder if seeing wisdom as the take-away from the other two is what makes Han Han’s time travel fantasy seem so bland and unambitious.
It’s a little surprising, given how popular nostalgia pictures have been in China over the last few years, that there haven’t been more time travel fantasies made recently, although this one is kind of weird in how it jumps the gun: It opens in a 2022 that does not appear particularly futuristic, showing famous rally car driver “Lang” Xu Tailang (Deng Chao) winning a race and then calling out the father who didn’t believe in him. He then takes the father on a drive, to show him what he does, only to get hit by a train, have his entire life flash before his eyes, and then wake up in 1998, where father Zhangtai (Eddie Peng Yu-yen) runs a video store and karaoke bar, fights against a rival “gangster” who is barely bigger-time than he is (Zhang Ben-yu), though his gang is basically unemployed computer programmer Ma (Dong Zi-jian), dim bulb Liu Yi (Zack Gao), and now Lang. Oh, and he seems to be about to marry Hua (Zanilia Zhao Li-ying), which is not the name of the mother that the born-in-1999 Lang never met.
Zemeckis and Cameron took the potential paradoxes that time travel introduced and built both odd families and stories that worked intuitively despite their strangely circular construction, but Han seems so uninterested in playing with the timeline that one almost has to wonder why he made Lang come from the future in the first place; he seems only sporadically interested in ensuring his own birth, and what jokes there are about him being from the future are utterly perfunctory and never actually lead to anything. The parts of the plot that actually involve him encountering his own past are resolved in the most anti-climactic way possible, even when certain revelations would seem to raise the stakes, give Lang a new mission, or even make him ponder about whether the events he feels held him back have actually made him who he is.
Full review on EFC.