Monday, July 03, 2017

Ann Hui’s Our Time Will Come

Fong Lan is a schoolteacher and Blackie Lau is an outlaw, but they work well together on missions for the Dongjiang resistance to Imperial Japanese occupation. However, those are only short-term assignments. Over the long-term, Fong will endure the occupation and the stress of her clandestine work thanks to the support of her caustic mother. Ann Hui takes viewers behind enemy lines, but she is even more interested in life on the home front. She is admittedly not one to wave the bloody shirt, which is why some speculate her film was precipitously replaced as the opening night film of this Shanghai International Film Festival. Regardless, Ann’s Our Time Will Come released in Chinese-language markets just in time for the official Handover anniversary celebrations and opens this Friday in New York, soon after our own Independence Day (trailer here).

Poet and future PRC Minister of Culture is renting a room from Fong’s mother (she will be called Mrs. Fong, period), but they can sense he is primed to bolt. Fong herself will help facilitate his flight as part of an underground Varian Fry-like operation to smuggle intellectuals out of occupied Hong Kong. Her grace under pressure is definitely noticed by Lau. He is still relatively new to the resistance, but not to living a shadowy underground existence. Soon, Lau returns to recruit her to lead their urban division. There will definitely be sparks passing between them, but they will not have time for that until after victory.

Both Fong and Lau will become very, very good at what they do. Mrs. Fong is troubled by the risks her daughter takes, but she starts to worm her way into low level resistance activities, to maintain a connection with her. Meanwhile, Fong’s ex, Gam-wing accepts a white-collar office position with the Imperial government. However, he is not a collaborator. Instead, he is an independent mole, looking for an opportunity to do some serious damage on his own initiative.

Frankly, the time has come for an Ann Hui career retrospective, considering how consistent and prolific her work has been, especially as she approaches 70. Arguably, the long, almost self-contained Mao Dun sub-plot gives the film a somewhat episodic feel, but it is still a rich cinematic feast. Zhou Xun and Eddie Peng have terrific chemistry together as colleagues-not-lovers, Fong and Lau. Zhou is still one of the most expressive actresses on the planet, while Peng has developed some tremendous action chops that Hui periodically allows him to show-off. Honestly, Peng has become the movie-star Tom Cruise mistakenly thinks he still is.

Wallace Huo (who has back-to-back New York releases, following Reset) is also terrifically suave and intriguing as Gam-wing—a heroically roguish performance in the tradition of George Sanders in B-movies like Appointment in Berlin. However, Deannie Ip truly takes command of the film in the third act as the unlikely and tragically valiant Mrs. Fong.

As cool as it is to see “Big” Tony Leung Kar-fai playing an elderly Dongjiang veteran chronicling the exploits of Fong and Lau to an interviewer (played by Hui), those modern-day segments mostly take us out of the film rather than pulling us in. This film brings out the armchair editor in us, making us want to tighten it up and tweak the structure precisely because the superstar cast is so fantastic in it. The period production details are also spot-on and the action sequences are brief, but muscular and adrenaline-charged. Ultimately, it is a touching film about family and sacrifice. In other words, it is an Ann Hui film. Quite highly recommended overall, Our Time Will Come opens this Friday (7/7) in New York, at the AMC Empire.