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Back in Time (Fleet of Time)
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by Jay Seaver

"Right characters, wrong story."
2 stars

It can be kind of interesting to watch a movie like "Back in Time" ("Cong Cong Na Nian" in the original Mandarin, translated onscreen as "Fleet of Time") which comes from another culture, though often kind of puzzling: It's at least partly someone else's nostalgia, and if you don't know the late-1990s mandopop song accompanying a scene, you may be missing the punchline. Then again, it's not like the movies that make an appeal to one's own youth generally wind up being very good beyond that knee-jerk reaction, even without this movie's specific problems.

It starts in the present day, with thirty-ish Chen Xun (Eddie Peng Yu-yan) drunkenly telling others in a bar that he punted thirteen points on his college entry exam for a girl, which gets the attention of Seven (Liu Ya-se), a younger woman elsewhere in the room. He wakes up in her hotel room the next morning and eventually tells a bit of how he met and fell for transfer student Feng Hui (Ni Ni) fifteen years ago, in 1999. The story also involves his high-school friends Zhao Ye (Ryan Zheng Kai), Lin Jimao (Zhang Zixuan), and Qiao Ran (Vision Wei Chan), but he doesn't give it that much thought until he reunites with Ye as the latter's wedding approaches. Seven turns out to be Ye's wedding photographer, and she's got a way of steering conversations toward flashbacks.

There's kind of a weird disconnect to those flashbacks, though: They're tremendously sentimental, with show pans meant to make sure the audience breathes every lovingly recreated detail in, but often the main impression that comes through is that guys that age are kind of jerks. The oblivious basketball captain Jimao has a crush on often comes off the best because he is hurting her feelings in a completely passive way, unlike Chen Xun, who is constantly putting the shy Hui into situations where she has to react backed into a corner or with people watching. It's fairly mild as these things go and the girls have their own sorts of weird behavior, but seeing this as Chen Xun's lost, perfect love is kind of off-putting of you give it a moment or two of thought.

Maybe if the characters were better fleshed-out as individuals, it would be different, but despite a decent-enough cast that manages fairly well as both teenagers and adults, this is one generic group. Ni Ni is sweet enough as Hui, but for most of the movie, we know roughly one thing about her, and it's not the sort of lack of information that makes us curious. Eddie Peng's Chen Xun is a little easier to get a grip on, although, really, out of the main group, only Zhang Zixuan does much to make her character particularly memorable. Liu Ya-se and Bi Xia (playing the girl Chen Xun meets in college) each make good impressions in somewhat peripheral roles.

That those two are on the periphery is an illustration of what is perhaps the most astoundingly frustrating thing about Back in Time: There are hints of there being interesting stories about this group of people, but director Zhang Yibai and writer Hui Jiu-ye seem determined to focus on the least interesting aspects of their lives. Feng Hui seems to have an overprotective father, but does anything come of that? A relationship between two of the characters suddenly self-destructs, but there's little reason why behind it. A relationship between Chen Xun and Bi's Shen Xiaotang feels like the thing we should be rooting for rather than an impediment to Xun and Hui. Zhao's fiancée is a complete non-entity, even in the middle of her wedding. And, wow, the last minute implies a story that is ten times more interesting than the one told from Chen Xun's point of view.

The movie is not without its pleasures - there are a few fun scenes and songs on the soundtrack - and on occasion, Zhang seems to recognize that some of what he's showing isn't really worth being sentimental about. Make this almost anybody's story but Chen Xun's, and you might get a decent movie, but looking at it from this angle means all the interesting activity is out of view.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28355&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/20/14 13:40:14
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USA
  12-Dec-2014

UK
  N/A

Australia
  12-Dec-2014


Directed by
  Yibai Zhang

Written by
  N/A

Cast
  Eddie Peng
  Ni Ni
  Yase Liu
  Ryan Zheng
  Zixuan Zhang
  Chan Wei
  Xia Bi



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