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Journey Through Time with Anthony, A
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by Jay Seaver

"Nice folks, middling story."
2 stars

China seems to be producing a lot of movies like "A Journey Through Time with Anthony" (slightly less unwieldy than the film's Mandarin title, "Pei an dong ni du guo man chang sui yue") lately, plucked from the blogs and romans à clefs of relatively young writers. Some of them not only translate the distinctive voices and doodles into sweet little movies, but it seems the majority wind up like this one: Cute, pleasant, and eventually coming up against how a series of reminiscences isn't quite the same thing as a story.

Anthony (Liu Chang) is a young man from Dailin, China, about to start a couple of years of study abroad in Melbourne, while his best friend Xiao Ying (Bai Baihe) studies sound engineering in Tokyo. He's set up in a boarding house full of Chinese students, and he soon meets another, "Serena" Xiao Xuan (Tina Tang Yi-xin). It's not long before he encounters her again after deciding to change his major to culinary arts, discovering he has a real knack or it, even as Ying feels like she is constantly disappointing Fang jie (Jin Shijia) on a movie project they are working on together.

Anthony's a nice guy, meets nice people, and has a chance to grow and discover things about himself over the course of the movie. In that way, it's a pretty mild "finding yourself at college" story, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that. Director Janet Chun Siu-jan (who also adapted the book by the real-life Anthony) does not go in for excessive dramatics in situations that don't merit them, and while she allows for plenty of moments of levity, she never lets the film veer into over-sentimentality or silliness, even as a cartoon bunny avatar pops up in various corners. She knows the tone she's going for, and she seldom misses.

She's got a nice cast to work with, too. Liu Chang is a good-looking young fellow who narrates from the present (Anthony went to Melbourne in 2005) with assurance while still maintaining the character's innocence, and he's expressive without needing to spit out elaborate dialogue. The ladies in his life are a fine pair as well - Bai Baihe (having a pretty good year with Go Away Mr. Tumor and blockbuster Monster Hunt) is introduced with dorky charm but later gets the heavier story, and really impresses during a sequence when Anthony visits Ying in Tokyo. Tina Tang plays Serena within a more narrowly upbeat range, but she is winning throughout.

The trouble is two-fold. The first is that Anthony never seems particularly challenged - he discovers that he has a facility for cooking, and he's so good at it immediately that when he is suddenly thrown into both auditioning for a new job and a crisis there, there is no real suspense or anything to learn about Anthony from the experience. When things reach a potential turning point in his relationships, he backs off. Heck, when we find out that he was approached to make his blog into a book, writing was apparently so easy and natural that it was barely worth mentioning.

The other issue is that, while Anthony collects some interesting anecdotes, they never coalesce. There's a story of a whale who can not find a mate because her song is at the wrong frequency, which seems like a nifty hook into Ying's talent for and fascination with audio, but the two don't link up (and often Chun will talk about Anthony capturing a sound for her without ever actually letting the audience hear it). The film is littered with supporting characters who don't actually do much, and the finale strongly implies that Anthony was sort of able to backtrack on rejection when it's convenient, although Chun seems to know the optics on that are bad enough to keep it ambiguous.

It makes for a frustrating experience - this is a nice cast, Chun nicely balances the desire to be among one's own people abroad with the feeling of exploring a new place, and when the action shifts to Tokyo, the situation is downright interesting. But let's face it; a blog of one's life generally doesn't have an arc or structure, and eventually that means "A Journey Through Time with Anthony" doesn't really have a satisfying last act, despite really needing to get somewhere.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29901&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/20/15 16:29:16
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USA
  18-Nov-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-Nov-2015


Directed by
  Janet Chun

Written by
  Janet Chun

Cast
  Chang Liu
  Baihe Bai
  Tina Tang
  Yiyan Jiang



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