Veteran director of the Hong Kong New Wave, Ann Hui is back this year with “Our Time Will Come,” a movie that retains all the trademark comfort elements that made her a legend. Produced and distributed by Chinese Bona Film Group this WWII drama movie arrives just in time for the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China even if Ann Hui’s work is far from celebratory, and it was presented as a world premiere at the Shanghai International Film Festival.
“Our Time Will Come” is set in Hong Kong in 1942, during the Japanese occupation and it immediately introduces a spy thriller atmosphere, opening in a secret meeting where a group of activists is planning a mass evacuation of Chinese intellectuals from Hong Kong to help them to cross the border with China. In the meantime, Mrs. Fong (Deanie Ip) earns little spare money subletting a room of her house to the exiled poet Mao Dun (Guo Tao) and his wife, while her schoolteacher daughter Lan Fong (Zhou Xun) has just declined a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Wing (Wallace Huo) who then decides to work as double agent in a Japanese office.
Lan and her mum are not happy to learn their lodgers are soon and inexplicably leaving. In fact, the two have no idea that Mao Dun is one of the intellectuals that are going to flee Hong Kong with the help of Blackie Lau (Eddie Peng), the fearless leader of the Dongjang guerrillas. When by pure chance Lan finds herself in the middle of the action and is forced to help Blackie Lau and his comrades to rescue the group of fugitives, she is profoundly touched by the motivations of the brave partisans and it doesn’t take long for her to start helping the resistance. At first, she just delivers propaganda leaflets, but soon she will become more involved and she’ll mature into the generous guerrilla heroin the film is based on.
Because of her decision to cooperate with the Dongjang, Lan eventually flees the city and goes into hiding in the surrounding fishing villages with the partisans, while her mum does what she can to help the cause (and the daughter) from a progressively deteriorating Hong Kong under siege.
Behind the spy-thriller veneer, this is a quintessential Ann Hui film and the espionage theme quickly reverts into the director’s trademark perspective, where the war is filtered through the eyes of ordinary people dealing with tragic and unexpected circumstances. Far from a traditional war epic “Our Time Will Come” is instead a powerful epic of endurance and struggle. Fights are sporadic and often in the background, what we rather see are the subtle details of the everyday life under strain, little gestures, stretching the rice, wartime economy, giving shelter, all narrated with Hui’s delicate touch and empathy. Every single scene of the movie posses an undercurrent flow of emotions but the director chooses to maintain a quiet and distant tone. Understated and realistically narrated the story unravels in front of our very eyes without using a defined point-of-view character.
It’s not the first time Ann Hui sets a movie in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation, always with strong female characters. Unsung heroes of war times, women are center stage here too. Refusing to be called brave by Blackie Lau, Lan modestly delivers a line that most synthesize Ann Hui’s beloved subject: “Ordinary people do extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances”. “Our Time Will Come” closes in modern days, life goes on along the neon-lit streets of Hong Kong. Resilience is the pride of Hongkongers.
Zhou Xun and Eddie Peng’s performances are compelling and both full of a very different kind of energy, while the noir and spy moods are mainly in the hands of Wallace Huo, but who really shines is (again) Deanie Ip. She is truly terrific, and it would not be a surprise if she bagged some best actress awards this year for her compassionate, funny and moving display of humanity.
Voice-over has often been one of the director’s favorite tricks and in Our Time Will Come she uses it in the form of an interview she is conducting in present days with former guerrilla members. One of them and main storyteller is Tony Leung Ka-fai in a poignant role as an elderly Hong Kong taxi driver once very close to Lan and lovingly fond of her. His tale gets really moving towards the end when we see his young persona in the story. Leung’s extended cameo is not the only one, many Hong Kong actors show up in little parts, Sam Lee, Ivana Wong, Candy Lo and we can spot the director herself, interviewing the elderly partisans.
The outstanding original score has been composed by Japanese Maestro Joe Hisaishi and in accord with the realistic style of the movie, is delivered drop by drop leaving long parts of the movie devoid of a soundtrack, but when it’s on, especially in the final crescendo, it is a goosebumps experience. Man Lim-chung’s excellent production design shows an accurate and fascinating reconstruction of 40’s Hong Kong, from the Lan’s family home in Wan Chai, down to the pier on the Victoria Harbor and the familiar landmark, the Star Ferry, while the guerrilla hideaway is filmed in the New Territories, north of the city.
Ann Hui is in great form and “Our Time Will Come” is another proof of her consistency in delivering solid universal dramas, populated by humane and relatable heroes. Easily one of the best movies of 2017.
“Our Time Will Come” is distributed in Australia by China Lion Entertainment