Time 4 Hope (2002)
Directed by: Derek Chiu
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The true story written by and about prolific screenwriter Yuen Gai-Chi (1*), portrayed by Nick Cheung we see Yuen winning a screenwriting award for A Chinese Ghost Story (according to the info out there, this seems fabricated though) but his creative high comes to an end in a car accident that permanently leaves him partly paralyzed. Nurse Ching becomes intrigued with the stories Yuen has and begins to willingly and unwillingly nurse him back to health...
Derek Chiu's second "big" film of 2002, having honed his craft at Milkyway for Johnnie To via acclaimed works such as Comeuppance and Sealed With A Kiss, is a rollercoaster ride of events where title cards tells us love will prevail but in the end we're not so sure he or writer Yuen is really following through on their intentions. A line towards the end goes that ends are not written but why was that an excuse here?
These mentioned act starts/breaks containing "poetic" musings on the strength of love are as corny as can be but Time 4 Hope boasts a palette of subdued emotions and hands-off storytelling that works rather well for little over an hour. You already sensed that "uh-oh" earlier in this review but if you do the math, Chiu offers up more pro's than con's. Basically being a story where a speedy fellow comes to a halt and is forced to reconsider his pace towards life, the musings on the movie industry take relatively little space, even though Yuen's character gallery means ripping on Tsui Hark (possibly), praising the late Barry Wong (Lau Sek-Yin in a fine supporting performance), and that's all fine choice here. Yuen becomes the extrovert vs. Ching's conscious introvert as he displays open need to find someone to cling onto in the form of Athena Chu's character (and who wouldn't want to....). It's when you're down, vulnerable and needy that you display these more sad than sweet notions of love and the portrayal of how Ching handles this IS tuned to reality. You can do your duty as a nurse even off the clock but Ching is quick to draw a line and merely absorbs Yuen's attempts at reaching out. You wouldn't want to give a dog a bone in this case, even though it's sincere. Derek Chiu also keeps the narrative low-key, cutting away suitably before melodrama can threaten a scene and the mileage gotten out of choice is plentiful.
We relate and what's being portrayed throughout subsequently is those many up's and down's love offers us, despite its telling strengths. Every opportunity in the world exists to build on established characters but it seems someone thought it was a good idea to make transitions jarring to the max, creating confusion in the ongoing romance between the leads and lack of emotional dedication to it. While this still probably remains true to experiences pretty much anyone has had, it becomes more tiring than affecting to witness the difficulties Yuen and Ching goes through, despite them progressing. Disillusion enters at many points and I should stress this isn't exactly downbeat in a poor way. The story just goes astray when out of the hospital scenario basically and that's a shame because Chiu does create magic worth of note. Notable visuals are kept relatively off the screen but some of the more mellow moments sees Chiu experimenting more, in particular with the view through a glass ball in the car of Yuen's. Trademark quirks are minor but late in the problematic sections he bounces back occasionally by lingering on events to that excruciating level.
But for what it's worth, the screen duet between Nick Cheung and Athena Chu (2*) succeeds as long as the film does. Cheung handles the blowhard, overworked and emotionally desperate traits to Yuen with gusto, making us clearly flow with the innocent, quite sad plea of love he eventually declares to Ching. Never slipping into unhealthy territory emotionally that does disservice to the frame, the scenes with Chu's Ching where her insecurity towards men and balanced behaviour towards what is clearly a needy patient are among the best in the film. Chu also handles these moments remarkably, especially when her character hasn't broken out of her homebound shell. Just watch the scene where she stands up for Yuen at an early point and how quickly she crawls into a shell again. Dangerous to overstep your bounds.
Pushing little for inspiration in the face of almost terminal injury, the biggest push of Derek Chiu's has to do with using "You Are My Sunshine" (as interpreted by Bryan Ferry) about 50 times but that's still within a section of Time 4 Hope that isn't following commercial instincts at all. Subtle and telling by being so, it's basically before actual love blossoms on the screen that the story of a guy on top of the world being reduced is at its most enchanting, much thanks to yet more subtle, telling strengths brought out in lead performances. Too bad Derek Chiu and Yuen Gai-Chi opt to cheat by going ambiguous on us in a bad way towards the very end and while employing focus inside a commercial machinery (Emperior Multimedia Group) isn't THE allowed recipe, Time 4 Hope could've received the time to slowly portray the stages of the difficulties of love. We're left with Derek Chiu developing very little and rushing. Which in itself is a life-truth but not a moviemaking-solution.
Universe presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.76:1, approximately. A bit on the muddy side, colours aren't particularly vibrant because of it. Other areas obviously suffer as well but no one will have a problem getting through the presentation.
Available audio tracks are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.
The English subtitles feature minor errors only and the translation is easy to follow. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
Extras are the usual light Universe inclusions, starting with Star's Files for Nick Cheung, Athena Chu, Derek Chiu and Yuen Kai-Chi. Actor's files are embarrassingly short while Chiu's mixes a Director's statement and a brief career outline. Yuen's bio basically recap what we see in the film. The trailer for Time 4 Hope and Funeral March finishes the disc.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson
(1) Neglecting the fact that Hong Kong cinema writing credits are open to debate and definition, especially back in the 80s and 90s, Yuen has credits on high profile movies such as A Chinese Ghost Story, Pedicab Driver, Once Upon A Time In China and Drunken Master II. He also directed the little noticed Hot Cop In The City in 2004.
(2) The two has appeared together numerous times over the years, including in Love Correction, The Conman and Raped By An Angel 4: The Rapist's Union.