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Love in the Time of Twilight
Year: 1995
Charlie Young and Nicky Wu
Director: Tsui Hark
Action: Yuen Bun
Cast: Charlie Young Choi-Nei, Nicky Wu (Ng Kei-Lung), Eric Kot Man-Fai, Lau Shun, Ho Ka-Kui, Wong Yat-Fei, Peter Lai Bei-Tak, Raymond Lee Wai-Man, Cheung Ting
The Skinny: Dizzyingly paced romantic fantasy from Tsui Hark that features a truly bizarre series of plot devices and a sometimes confusing narrative. It's also an engaging, creative motion picture that can be exhilarating and quite enjoyable.
by Kozo:

     Tsui Hark's quickie follow-up to the popular The Lovers is a nifty time travel period piece that's masked by a strangely sappy title. Charlie Young and Nicky Wu are young rivals who find love and resolve together after Wu is killed by an evil gold-digging actress and her bank-robbing buddies (led by the nefarious Ho Ka-Kui). Wu comes back as a ghost, and thanks to a bizarre plot device he and Young are able to enter the past in an attempt to right wrongs, prevent Wu's murder, and generally act silly. Along the way, they must deal with assorted Three's Company-style comedy, which involve Young's extended family (a traveling theater troupe) and another suitor (played with nearly-criminal mania by Eric Kot).
     Young and Wu are able to travel back in time thanks to the magic of the lightbulb, which is a plot device that requires explaining. You see, when a lightbulb is turned on, the electricity allows a supernatural being (like Wu's ghostly form) to travel through all facets of time in which that lightbulb existed. While in the lightbulb world, you must move very slowly, or your body will fly into pieces. And, if the lightbulb is ever destroyed while you're trapped inside, you can kiss reincarnation or any further time travel goodbye.
     The metaphysics to all of this make as much sense as Michael Wong's career, but Tsui neatly sidesteps those issues for the budding romance between Wu and Young. His two young stars prove appropriate for their roles, as they bring a fine chemistry and an entertaining antagonism to their sparring. The two never intend to be rivals, but bad karma (or the usual HK predestiny) brings them together. Once Young is resolved to helping Wu, they travel back through time again and again to solve Wu's problems. Multiple trips are required because it seems fate is against them. It's only when they cross the biggest hurdle of all - realizing who they're meant for - that they're able to affect any change in their character's lives.
      The setup for this elaborately staged romantic fantasy screams Tsui Hark from minute one. To bring his protagonists together, Tsui uses a series of overdone comedic coincidences which make American slapstick seem like slow-paced melodrama. There's muggy shtick, puke gags, and romantic misdirections aplenty. None of this is new for Tsui, who's used similarly cloying comedy routines in films like Shanghai Blues, The Chinese Feast and even The Lovers. While it all seems agreeable, the alternate reaction may be one of bemused exhaustion. Sure, everything in Tsui Hark's world is cute and silly, but it can also be tiring in due to the bizarre leaps of logic which seem to operate as a sort of Tsui Hark shorthand. He may understand what's going on, and his fans may be game, but the standard undemanding audience member could feel totally lost.
     This seems to be the curse - and blessing - of nearly all Tsui Hark cinema. He's an incredibly opaque storyteller, but he infuses his pictures with an energy and cinematic charm that's infectious and even beguiling. There's a creative energy to Tsui's cinema that's simulataneously quick to please, yet suddenly uncompromising. When watching a Tsui Hark film, it's clear that you're operating by his rules, and not some handbook for quickie box office hits.
     Which leaves us with the primary issue of any film review: is this movie any good? Yes, Love in the Time of Twilight is an engaging, affecting romantic fantasy that encompasses action, comedy, romance and existential longing in ways that only Tsui Hark could imagine. It's not his most successful picture by far, as it lacks the exhilirating wonder of Peking Opera Blues or the heartfelt nostalgia of Shanghai Blues. It also possesses a sometimes confusing narrative and truly egregious special effects. To call this a cinematic triumph would be stretching things. What can be said, however, is that Love in the Time of Twilight is an entertaining little film that accomplishes more in its 100 minutes than most films can ever aspire to. This is vintage Tsui Hark, which is still better than most of the stuff you'll find out there. (Kozo 1995/1998)

image courtesy of Mei Ah Laser Disc Co., Ltd.

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