The Warning Time

Reviewed by YTSL

This debut (co-)directorial effort from Vincent Wan -- an actor who I've only really seen in supporting roles (e.g., "Portland Street Blues", other Y&D films and "Love Among the Triad") thus far, but who has always impressed -- feels like a cross between "Spacked Out" and "Young and Dangerous".  For those who can't quite imagine this, what I mean is that it is both a gritty and playful offering:  Whose adolescent characters lead lives which are replete with the kind of too adult -- and often illegal -- elements that those who want to live to a ripe old age probably shouldn't be all that familiar with; and whose older individuals are revealed to possess an ability to get pleasure out of little things that one tends to associate more with more innocent and younger folk.  Additional similarities come in the sense of the movie makers having sought for the film to have a stylish feel which reflects that of the particular strata of contemporary Hong Kong society represented in this hardly big budget production.

THE WARNING TIME begins with a quick introduction to some enterprising and spirited youth, all of whom do not seem to worry or care that both their business and leisure activities are against the law.  Four of them (fresh talent in the forms of Kenji Hong, Karen Lee, Ivy Ng, and Andy Hong) are friends who share an apartment.  Den is a pimp who gets his prostitutes -- one of whose sexual favors he would prefer to have for himself -- to steal credit cards from their clients.  Mini is the streetwalking lass who Den fancies.  Dotcom makes a living from committing Internet fraud.  Sharon worked as a beer promotion girl in a dance club run by triads but that stint came to an end after her male friends cause a huge ruckus when trying to protect her honor from a man who sought sex as well as alcohol from her.
Into their lives -- by way of his responding to an ad of theirs for a fifth flat-mate -- enters an older man named Choi (i.e., Vegetable in Cantonese!).  Unbeknownst to the four youngsters, he has just come out of prison after serving an eighteen year sentence, and has chosen as his new abode that which formerly was the home of the gal he loved enough to kill a man for.  Although it may not seem to be so for the first ten minutes or so of THE WARNING TIME, it is Choi who definitely is the film's main character (Vincent Wan, who plays him well, thus does have significant roles both in front and behind the camera for this production).
As Choi tries to pick up where he left off, he gets reacquainted with old Triad buddies like Shark (Roy Cheung's role here is far more sympathetic than those he essays in the Y&D movies, "School on Fire" and "Prison on Fire") and Big Nose (Tommy Wong's character seems meant to be more amusing than menacing), and searches for the love of his life, who just stopped -- without ever giving him a reason -- visiting him in prison one day (Lotus Ho is played by the "still attractive after all these years" Carrie Ng).  In the process, he also ends up in the company of individuals who are not from his past but do turn out to have rather significant links with his old "heng tai" and girlfriend (Apart from his young initially suspicious apartment-mates turned friends, there's a father-son duo known as Big Brother Sik and Sik Junior.  N.B. Big Brother Sik, the ambitious Triad kingpin who owns the dance club that Sharon formerly worked in, is well played by (Ringo) Yu Rong Guang...).  Most of the rest of the movie is devoted to observing what Choi does with these relations, and the opportunities that he gets from working as Big Brother Sik and his wife's chauffeur...
If truth be told, THE WARNING TIME is hardly the most sophisticated of works in terms of plot and technical attributes.  However, it has "heart" of the kind that makes characters and situations that may otherwise feel cliched seem "real".  The film also benefits a great deal from being anchored by the performances of some really good actors (more so than from the guest appearances of such infamous figures as Charles Heung, Elvis Tsui and Yvonne Yung Hung).  IMHO, Messrs. Wan, Yu, Cheung and Ms. Ng deserve to be bigger names in a movie world that surely would benefit from making (more and better) room for those individuals who can successfully imbue their characters with the kind of down-to-earth, substantial and mature image that adds dramatic weight to many a cinematic effort.  Until this happens, such as this personal feeling production keep this (re)viewer fairly happy (and entertained), even if not completely satisfied.
My rating for this film:  6.5.