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How Long Will I Love U
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by Jay Seaver

"Could use a few time-travel tweaks."
3 stars

"How Long WIll I Love U" doesn't exactly waste a fun premise and a likable cast, but it's almost never as inspired in its follow-through as it is when introducing things. The opening act of the movie gives us a nifty main setting and a quick introduction to a potentially fun couple, but the rest of the movie seems dedicated to taking it for granted on the way to a finale where there's a lot of plot but it's also even fuzzier than that of most time travel stories.

The film starts by introducing Shanghai residents Gu Xiao-jiao (Tong Liya) and Lu Meng (Lei Jiayin). She's 31 and having a friend arrange blind dates with wealthy men, apparently ready to marry anyone who will buy her a house; he's 25 and works for a real estate firm which is not interested in his plan to build "lofts" in an area he predicts will by highly developed in a few years. It turns out that they not only live in the same building but the same apartment - him in 1999, her in 2018 - and one night (well, technically two nights, I suppose), some strange phenomenon causes the apartments to merge, giving them each not only an unwanted roommate but the chance to change their futures.

Having both Gu and Lu be in kind of rough financial situations and basically the same sort of neighborhood around them is one of the less interesting ways to use this premise - think of what could be done with gentrification, development, or a part of the city more in flux! - but director Xu Lun has a blast in the early going, from the animated credits to the set that literally smashes everything that has changed in twenty years together. There's a cool secret lab that hints at a fun sci-fi side of all this and effects bits that are clearly meant to steer the characters from the consequential to the amusing. It's not all silliness, but it seems loose and free-wheeling, like Xu is going to have fun with this.

The cast is, too, especially Tong Liya, who is a spirited Xiao-jiao. She starts out looking like a sort of mercenary, materialistic archetype, and Tong handles that sort of snappish, rapid-fire dialogue well, but also puts just enough desperation into it to make her appealing, and comes out of the jumbled tone toward the end - when she's got to be somewhat seduced by a rich suitor and more aware of what's actually important - without losing what initially made Xiao-jiao fun. She and Lei Jiayin play off each other better as scenes get more frantic, and Lei has great scruffy charm as the younger Lu Meng, although his older self feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

It doesn't help that this plot treats what could be the most entertaining two-person love triangle outside of DC Comics a distraction, and winds up sidelining the wrong part of the cast to create a paradox. A lot of recent time-travel material has shown chaos to be a lot more fun than intricacy, and even though this isn't that sort of broad comedy ay all, it might have been a lot more fun if they'd gone for that. Instead, it loses track of the experiment that led to the time travel in the first place (I including an entertainingly talked but deadpan scientist), hand-waves a bunch of what's going on away, but then ends before giving the audience much of the reason why you would brush that off until an admittedly cute fourth-wall-breaking bit during the credits.

This movie gets by on the not-inconsiderable charm of its stars, but imagine what they could have done if cut loose! That's not the movie that Xu made, but the one the audience gets is still fairly entertaining, and Kelly more so for the folks in the audience who recognized cameos and got the 1999 China jokes that flew past me.

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originally posted: 05/28/18 00:18:28
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Directed by
  Su Lun

Written by
  Su Lun

  Jiayin Lei
  Liya Tong
  Zheng Xu

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