Time 4 Hope

Reviewed by YTSL

This low key drama is an effort that I wanted to really like, and not only because it was the first 2002 HKSAR cinematic release that I viewed (and consequently one that I rather superstitiously feel could provide me with some portends of what the rest of this new film year will be like).  Rather, it’s that the Derek Chiu directed offering also happens to be an autobiographical work -- that is in large part a loving tribute to the love of his life -- which was penned by the self-described “story-teller” who wrote the scripts of some of my favorite Hong Kong movies (E.g., “A Chinese Ghost Story”, “Once Upon a Time in China” and “Drunken Master II”) and has had the kind of life that would seem to be worth knowing (more) about.

Yuen Kai Chi (who gets portrayed here by Nick Cheung) is initially shown in TIME 4 HOPE as the kind of young man who looks like he has a great future in front of him and everything to live for.  Especially after he wins the HKFA Best Scriptwriter prize, he is professionally in much demand as well as brimming with ideas for new movie scripts.  Outside of work, he’s got a group of good buddies with whom he can have fun times (who include an individual that’s clearly meant to be the late and famously good-hearted Barry Wong), a physically attractive girlfriend (who comes in the form of Stephanie Che in this film) and a mother (played by Helena Law Lan) who clearly feels justifiably proud of her son’s achievements.  Additionally, the individual who seems to have a “work hard, play hard” ethic finds himself more than able to afford the cool looking cars that he takes much pleasure driving fast.
Before the movie’s 15 minute mark though, the 28 year old -- in 1987 -- Chi is shown having the accident that caused him to have a blood clot in his brain, end up in a coma for two long months (during which it was genuinely feared that he would never ever regain consciousness) and permanently lose the ability to use one of his legs.  And, as depicted in this Gordon Chan production, it wasn’t as though the quality of his life speedily and significantly improved in the period that followed his having to learn how to cope with his physical disability and finally getting discharged from the hospital.  Still, as the proverbial “they” say, every cloud has a silver lining; and in the case of he who the HKMDB actually lists as having three scriptwriting credits each in 1988, 1989 and again in 1991 (and whose writing problems, at least, may thus have been exaggerated for dramatic purposes in this nonetheless generally restrained effort), it was his falling in love with a nurse who voluntarily continued to care for him after he was no longer a patient in the ward in which she worked.  Consequently, Chi came to think of the post-accident period of his life as a TIME 4 (sic.) HOPE rather than despair.
It is very much to Yuen Kai Chi’s credit that he was able to characterize the woman who gets sweetly portrayed by Athena Chu in such a way that she does seem to be a believably nice human being (as opposed to an impossibly saintly figure).  Now, if only he -- and those others who had a say in these matters -- had been able to convincingly show in TIME 4 HOPE how and why she (who gets called Cindy by some people and Ching by others) not only got attracted to, plus made the decision to plunge into a serious relationship with, him but also was prepared to make the substantial sacrifices that she did to do so; this especially in light of his coming across in the film as someone who is quite difficult to relate to and live with!  Additionally, and I must admit that part of me feels like a churl for thinking this but...I really did find myself wishing -- when viewing this too modest offering -- that the obviously not untalented scriptwriter could have related his (love) story in a way that was more compelling, even if not actually exciting!!
TIME 4 HOPE suffers too from having the kind of piano music that irritates -- rather than inspires, soothes or blends well into the background -- and Chi and Cindy/Ching’s favorite song getting played five times inside of the film’s first half hour (And it sure doesn’t help that the particular version of “You Are My Sunshine” that’s sung by Bryan Ferry is that which may be the most slow tempo-ed of any that I’ve ever heard!).  On the other hand, other technical aspects of this movie -- notably the cinematography, which comes courtesy of Mark Li Ping Bing -- actually are quite fine.  Consequently, and at the risk of damning it with faint praise, Yuen Kai Chi’s first scripted work in seven years -- and twenty-fourth in total, as of April 2002 -- is one that’s truly not a major pain to view (even if it’s less memorable and moving than it probably could or should have been).

My rating for the film: 5.5