(Guest Movie Review by Alex Lui) It was inevitable that the classic love story Romeo and Juliet would get updated yet again, as if having to endure Baz Luhrmann’s dizzying interpretation in his 1996 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes wasn’t bad enough. Though the story has been tweaked a bit this time around, mostly with Chinese cultural traditions added in, “A Time to Love” still incorporates many of the stock elements from Shakespeare’s play. It’s very clear that writers Wu Si and Renjie Zhang are not going for originality here, but are in fact aiming to give the audience two likeable characters worth rooting for. And fortunately for them, this is an aspect of the film that works.
“A Time to Love” revolves around two childhood friends who grow up in the same apartment complex, and who as adults fall in love. Qu Ran (Vicki Zhao, the sexy assassin in “So Close”) is the prettiest girl in the neighbourhood, while Hou Jia (Yi Lu) is the leader among his small group of friends. Qu Ran and Hou Jia’s bond develops and extends into their high school years, even as Hou Jia is tasked with caring for his wheelchair-bound mother, and Qu Ran manages her studies. Love blooms between the two, but it’s a relationship frown upon by both families. Though initially deterred, the two overcomes the obstacles to become lovers, all the while unaware of the shared history between their two families.
The first thing you notice is that references to Romeo and Juliet abound in “A Time to Love”, mostly presented in three various forms: the written play by Shakespeare, Franco Zeffirelli’s incomparable 1968 film, and a ballet production. The film goes to great pains to emphasize the similar metaphors between the two stories, even including a scene where Qu stands on a balcony reciting verses as Hou listens underneath.
Unfortunately the film does have a few drawbacks, one of which is the lethargic pacing, the result of padding. To correct this, fifteen or twenty minutes could have been trimmed from the film without harming the central storyline (mainly the bit with Qu’s college friend and her brother’s marriage, both of which lead nowhere). Although the film’s running time is less than two hours, certain superfluous parts make it feel much longer, which is never a good sign. On the plus side, the conclusion provides a sense of closure without being overly melodramatic, as is usually the case with these types of stories.
Without a doubt, Vicki Zhao is the star of the film, and demonstrates that she can carry a movie when afforded the opportunity. She exhibits equal parts subtleness and innocence, and is the main reason the film works as well as it does. Yi Lu is average as the male lead, and pales in direct comparison to Zhao when it comes to screen presence. And while the parent characters are one-note caricatures, the blame should go to the screenwriters for not fleshing out any of the film’s secondary characters. As a result, when various characters have a change of heart, it comes across as too contrived.
Despite a horrible score (there was little to no background music during the dramatic scenes, only during the transitional ones) and some of the characters being little more than ridiculous stereotypes, “A Time to Love” has a simple narrative and interesting enough main characters to keep most viewers moderately interested. Fortunately for the film, it’s easy to care about Vicki Zhao’s character and what becomes of her, and as a result the film does just enough to merit a recommendation, albeit a minor one.
Jianqi Huo (director) / Wu Si, Renjie Zhang (screenplay)
CAST: Yi Lu …. Hou Jia
Xiaoying Song …. Qu Ran’s Mother
Vicki Zhao …. Qu Ran