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Kill Time

Ethan Ruan and Angelababy in Kill Time.

Chinese: 謀殺似水年華
Year: 2016

Fruit Chan Gor


Fruit Chan Gor, Vincent Wu, Ray Li, Daniel Yu


Fruit Chan Gor, Li Qianxun, Cai Jun (original novel)


Angelababy, Ethan Ruan, Zhang Chao, Huang Jue, Hao Lei, Yin Zhusheng, Rayza, Pan Hong, Kou Zhenhai, Song Ning, Lam Suet

The Skinny: Unfathomable mystery-romance-thriller from a director that we’ve come to expect much more from. Kill Time lives up to its title but doesn’t do much beyond that.
by Kozo:

Fruit Chan kills time – both his and ours – with the curious thriller Kill Time. Based on a novel by Cai Jun, a popular mystery author who also penned the source material for Curse of the Deserted (2010), Kill Time opens in 1995 with a woman's murder in a small industrial town. She was strangled using a wispy purple scarf but the murderer was never caught, much to the frustration of investigator Sergeant Tian (Yin Zhusheng). Twenty years later, Tian passes away, leaving his daughter Xiao-Mai (Angelababy) to pore over his copious investigation notes. Meanwhile, she orders a purple scarf similar to the murder weapon from Witch Zone, a shopping website that claims to supply everything, and even has a customer chat feature that keeps shoppers company like an anonymous WeChat buddy. Intrigued, Xiao-Mai asks Witch Zone for "memories" and "truth", and Witch Zone responds by sending seemingly random things that actually do lead Xiao-Mai to faded memories and, ultimately, some unexpected truths. Wow. had better watch out for these Witch Zone people.

Thanks to Witch Zone's product selections, Xiao-Mai is reminded of her past love Qiu Shou (Ethan Ruan), who also happens to be the 1995 murder victim’s son. Qiu Shou suddenly disappeared in the year 2000, leaving Xiao-Mai heartbroken and free to eventually hook up with childhood friend Sheng Zan (Zhang Chao). Xiao-Mai's sudden obsession with Qiu Shou and the past worries those around her, and when murders and kidnappings start occurring, things get dicey. Even more mysterious: The crimes seem connected to the murder of Qiu Shou's mother. What gives? Has Qiu Shou returned? Is he out for revenge? And how can China approve a film in which somebody's ghost apparently aids in a murder investigation? That latter point is hard to figure out, though China's censorship guidelines are frequently inconsistent and difficult to pin down. The same description could apply to Kill Time. While basically a mystery-thriller with a fairly conventional set-up of past sins and present consequences, the film adds in so many odd details, connections and references that it becomes increasingly dense and unfathomable.

Kill Time features a complex web of relationships stretching back not only to 1990s, but to just after the Cultural Revolution, when a young Sergeant Tian visited the countryside as a member of the People's Liberation Army. While that's a lead towards solving the murders, Fruit Chan's use of music may imply the film's themes. Songs from deceased singers – among them Teresa Teng and Leslie Cheung – are used on the soundtrack, and the singers are given shout-outs with onscreen text mentioning the dates of their passing. These details could relate to some dialogue about how a certain generation has lost its values, and how a person's youth can be "killed." There are also metaphysical musings, like the invocation of fate and some timely guidance from what could be someone's ghost. Supposedly, all this stuff combines to create a multi-layered potpourri touching upon history, destiny, postmodernism and maybe five other "isms". Fruit Chan is clearly attempting something, but what he's cooked up is overdone and occasionally laughable rather than clever or compelling. I'm guessing that was not the intention.

Not having read the novel, I can't comment on this adaptation's fidelity – so who knows, maybe the prose version of Kill Time does justify all the plot holes, odd details and tenuous thematic connections. You'd need to do a lot of narrative gymnastics to tie together a story involving the Cultural Revolution, dead pop singers, Internet shopping and murders via fashion accessories. Not helping is the non-linear storytelling, which is stylistically intriguing but contributes to making the film feel fractured. Though the atmosphere and tension are decent, they’re not enough to paper over the filmmaking cracks. The story requires lots of verbal explanation to make sense, making it less engaging and adding to the overall clumsiness of the storytelling. While not exemplary, the acting is not really at fault, as everyone is so enslaved to the overcomplicated story that complex or convincing characterization never happens. Henry Lai's overwrought, on-the-nose score is the cherry on top of this mess. Fruit Chan remains an incredibly interesting and thematically-adept filmmaker. However, despite his efforts, Kill Time never feels like more than a work-for-hire. (Kozo, 10/2016)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 1,2,3,4,5 NTSC
CN Entertainment Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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