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Fleet of Time

Eddie Peng and Ni Ni in Fleet of Time.
AKA: Back in Time
Chinese: 匆匆那年
Year: 2014
Director: Zhang Yibai
Producer: Li Ming, Li Ruigang, Wang Changtian, Zhang Xiaobo, Zhang Yibai

Li Han, Liu Han, Jiu Yehui (also original novel)


Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Ni Ni, Ryan Zheng Kai, Vision Wei, Zhang Zixuan, Cya Liu, Michael Chan, Bi Xia

  The Skinny: Fleet of Time has great leads and terrific production values but the self-indulgent story, underdeveloped situations and unlikeable characters make this a barely average entry in the nostalgic school romance genre. It goes without saying, fans of Eddie Peng and Ni Ni should enjoy the endless soft-focus gazes at their pretty faces.
by Kozo:

Nostalgic youth romances continue to pack ‘em in at Chinese cinemas but Fleet of Time (a.k.a. Back in Time) has a leg up on the competition in the form of EDDDDDIEEEEEE. The current (Or is it former?) Wong Fei-Hung, Eddie Peng stars alongside former Zhang Yimou girl Ni Ni for yet another look at young people who fell in love, only to split up and later regret that they squandered those glorious salad days during which they wore school uniforms. Zhang Yibai (Spicy Love Soup, Lost Indulgence) directs this made-to-order commercial hit about thirtyish financial analyst Chen Xun (Peng), who’s en route to the wedding of his high school pal Zhao Ye (Ryan Zheng). While at a bar, he drunkenly laments over his first love, which attracts the curiosity of a young hipster named Seven (Cya Liu). Eventually she reveals that she’s Zhao Ye’s wedding videographer, and begins on-camera interviews with Chen Xun about his first love. Because that’s what Zhao Ye wants on his wedding video: the romantic story of his more handsome and popular friend.

Chen Xun’s memories take us back to the golden-hued nineties, when he first met the prim and reserved Fang Hui (Ni Ni), and before long resolved to win her heart. As Chen Xun tells it, first glance led to first blush, then first affirmation and finally first kiss, and the nostalgic ride of these two young lovers proves endearing. With his very appealing stars (the boyishly Peng is innately likable, while Ni Ni possesses an alluring charm), sun-kissed photography and achingly nostalgic situations, Zhang Yibai creates a portrait of young love that possesses remarkable attraction. This is fine romantic fodder, and compensates for the formulaic shenanigans surrounding the couple’s romance. A sampling: bespectacled Qiao Ran (Vision Wei) also holds a torch for Fang Hui, while Zhao Ye has the hots for sassy Lin Jiamo (Zhang ZIxuan), who in turn likes basketball star Su Kai (Michael Chan). Spoiler: Not everyone ends up with the person they like. There’s not much new happening here, and yet the situations and supporting characters are relatable enough to hold interest.

Then Fleet of Love slowly unravels – perhaps not so much that regular audiences will jump off, but enough that it ceases to impress. The high school adventures of Chen Xun, Fang Hui and company are familiar and enjoyable, but after the characters enter college, the film rushes through their development, and they start to become unlikeable. Conflicts and drama clichés pile up among the characters, some of which make them seem inordinately callous, and the film doesn’t put all their choices or changes into the proper perspective. Given how everyone reacts at Zhao Ye’s wedding, it seems that they’re emotionally stuck in high school – in some ways alarmingly so. Besides participating in Seven’s video confessionals, all the high school buddies (minus Fang Hui, whose absence is one of the film’s driving mysteries) commiserate about their memories behind closed doors in a dark, smoke-filled room during the wedding, while the guests and also the bride are sitting in the banquet hall maybe fifty feet away. Wow, ten-plus years on, isn’t this behavior a little sad?

Fleet of Time is very self-indulgent, even when compared to its already self-absorbed genre cousins. The film’s characters are inordinately fixated on their high school days, and their obsession never feels justified. Also, Seven excessively harangues Chen Xun into feeling guilty over his fallout with Fang Hui, and when Chen Xun challenges her about her extreme interest, she deflects and then proceeds to draw even more regret-soaked memories from his sad sack thirtysomething self. You’d think people would be more annoyed at some millennial getting in their face about their past, but Chen Xun and company let Seven run all over them without much pushback. We finally do get a reveal explaining Seven’s motives, but it’s easy to guess her connection to the group – that is, outside of being an elaborate plot device. Ultimately, Fleet of Time has the superficial charms to entertain devout genre fans. But the recycled drama and the lack of emotional complexity make the characters less likeable than they should be, and the film less effective than it could have been. I suppose we’ll always have My Old Classmate. (Kozo, 8/2015)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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