If the trailers that are running before Our Time Will Come -- all of which are also for Chinese films -- are any indication, then most Chinese films getting a run in the U.S. are over-the-top, special effects cornball extravaganzas. Knowing little about Our Time Will Come, these trailers might make you wonder what you're in for. But rest assured: this film is a straightforward drama, and a well-constructed one with a point of view not often seen in American movie houses.
Here we have the story of guerilla fighters resisting the Japanese in early-1940s occupied Hong Kong. It's easy for Americans to glean over the many stories from World War II that actually have nothing to do with America, of which there are countless -- it's just that, naturally, our cinema history focuses on American involvement, especially when it comes to the Japanese. But of course, the Japanese were all about conquering their part of the world, including China.
Our Time Will Come doesn't exactly offer a broad lesson on Chinese mid-20th-century history, and nor should it: it tells the true story of a young woman, Lan (Xun Zhou), who finds herself recruited into participating in these guerilla efforts. She is charmed by the guerilla Urban and Firearms Unit captain, Blackie (Eddie Peng), while the man who wants to marry her, Kam-Wing (Wallace Huo), winds up working for the Japanese.
And then there's her mother, Mrs. Fong (Deannie Yip), who until all these distractions had been working quietly as a landlord with Lan. Lan wants to help her country defeat the Japanese; her mother, naturally, wants her to stay alive.
This mother-daughter relationship slowly comes into focus as the most important in this story, and Lan ultimately must make a decision about it that is devastating. These are the costs of war, but director Ann Hui never hammers that home as its point. She's painting a broad portrait of a way of life at a specific place and time.
The plot is somewhat complicated, and it took me a while to feel like I had a real sense of what was going on. Characters that seem significant in the beginning turn out to get relatively short screen time -- as in the author tenant Lan helps escape the city in the film's extended opening sequence. Leftist intellectuals are unwelcome by the Chinese; Lan, who had been a teacher, isn't even allowed to do her job any longer.
This is a story that takes its time to unspool, which means there are plenty who won't have the patience for it. There are even some film stills in other reviews that show Lan with a gun -- and she does indeed use one a few times -- which creates the false impression of more action than there is. There are indeed scenes that depict chaos and gun fights, but they are few enough to heighten their impact.
This complex plot is well constructed, however, and with a bit of effort to stick with it, Our Time Will Come offers unique rewards. Lan is herself a worthy protagonist, a woman not portrayed as a badass so much as a young woman of quiet strength and conviction -- a refreshingly realistic role model. It's not even clear at the very beginning that the story revolves around her, but her importance steadily pulls into focus.
The same could be said of the film overall: it takes something as broad as the second World War and narrows it down to one strand that offers a unique clarity on historical events.