Wednesday, May 23, 2018

How Long Will I Love U: Chinese Time Travel Makes a Comeback

From 1999 to 2018, Shanghai real estate values skyrocketed. That is a reality that will jump out at an aspiring property developer like Lu Ming when he gets a chance to see the future with his own eyes. However, fate will not allow him to profit from his advance knowledge. He also happens to be rather distracted by his fellow time traveler, Gu Xiaojiao. They live in the same apartment during different time periods, but suddenly they become reluctant roommates in director-screenwriter Su Lun’s How Long Will I Love U (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Gu used to live a life of privilege, but it all collapsed after the untimely death of her father. Lu has a vision of an exclusive building of loft condos, but his only potential investor is conspicuously dodgy. Both are missing something in their lives when destiny throws them together. One fateful morning, they wake up to find their apartments have been merged together. When they leave the flat, they enter either 1999 or 2018, depending on which one of them opened the front door. The entire apartment is sort of like the mail box in Il Mare (The Lake House).

At first, there is a whole lot of bickering between the two roomies, but slowly, a sort of Tracy-and-Hepburn romantic attraction starts to percolate between them. However, viewers also start to pick up hints that there might be some connections between the time travelers even they are not aware of. Then they get a load of Lu’s future (or present) self.

How Long starts out as a mildly goofy rom-com, but it evolves into an endearingly bittersweet time travel fantasy. Although not as tragic as Il Mare (not even close), it gets pretty serious, wading into some heavy themes of redemption, free will, and identity, in a reasonably credible fashion.

Tong Liya truly lights up the screen, making us feel for the insecure Gu, even when she is at her poutiest and most immature moments. Playing Lu at both ages, Lei Jiayin is awkward and reserved to a fault, which rather better suits his more calculating older self. Still, when he allows the fa├žade to finally crack in the third act, it constitutes a real pay-off.

Su Lun keeps the time travel fantastical enough, we can justify overlooking the logical knit-pickings. She also has enough ironic time-line-continuum stuff going on to keep science fiction fans invested. There is some fresh stuff here, but she never over-reaches her grasp. For what it’s worth, it is also somewhat encouraging to hope and assume the Communist government has slightly loosened its absurd ban on time travel narratives, judging from this film and last year’s Duckweed. Recommended for fans of Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time and the heart-tugging anime film Your Name, How Long Will I Love U opens this Friday (5/25) in New York, at the AMC Empire.