|Lyricist/playwright Leefire didn't have the most auspicious start in the film industry when he co-directed Give Love, a dreadful 2007 romantic drama that should be a textbook example of how not to direct a film. Fortunately, Leefire almost makes up for his cinematic crimes with Love in Time, his first solo film following four years of working on radio and writing several successful stage productions. Love in Time has its own problems and likely won't be remembered as a top ten contender on any critic's best films list, but it at least shows that Leefire learned how to compose a shot and tell a story properly.
Leefire actually recycles several elements from his directorial debut, mainly the basic concept of a somewhat taboo relationship blossoming between two people forced to co-exist in the same space (that’s the basic concept of many sitcoms as well). While the relationship in Give Love was between a young man and his older sister-in-law, Leefire takes it one step further in Love in Time with a love story between distant cousins. The topic is nothing new, as An Autumn's Tale and As Tears Go By also feature romances between cousins (who aren't blood-related…we hope), but it still might raise a few eyebrows.
Coincidentally, Bosco Wong seems to be channeling Chow Yun Fat and Andy Lau's romcom work in his performance as Cho, a slacker running a failing ice cream truck business with his flatmate Beer (Sammy). While Beer beds a different girl every night – the joke being that the girls are all ugly Southeast Asian or African girls – Cho is foolishly devoted to his internet girlfriend. Meanwhile, Cho is a jerk to everyone around him, including the neighborhood shopkeeper (Zhao Ke) who clearly has the hots for him.
The only reason Cho that still has a roof over his head is because the apartment he lives in belongs to his uncle. That arrangement is also why Cho must take in his cousin Tina (Stephy Tang), who’s returning to Hong Kong after moving to Taiwan as a teen. After the obligatory odd couple tensions, the two bond over fried ice cream and Tina’s high heels training. Is a real-life romance in the works, or will Tina's handsome new boss Machi (Danny So) step in before Cho has the guts to man up and confess his love?
Unlike his previous effort, Leefire gets the odd couple formula right in Love in Time. While Wilson Chen and Gigi Leung were painfully mismatched in Give Love, the two stars of Love in Time actually share screen chemistry. Similar to Charmaine Sheh in Love is the Only Answer, Bosco Wong shows that TVB actors can deliver good film work if given the right material. Wong doesn’t get the likeable jerk archetype fully right (partly due to Leefire’s inability to tone down his actors), but he shows enough charm to prove that he can be a fine leading man in the future. Meanwhile, Stephy Tang fans will find much to like, as the former Cookie is working in familiar romcom territory, has little need to stretch and also provides plenty of fan service (Cosplay!).
For a first solo effort, Love in Time is also surprisingly well-shot. Leefire and his cinematographer seem to have spent most of pre-production watching Wong Kar-Wai films, aping shots from romances like In the Mood for Love and even using a similar breezy Rumba-style score at points. Hong Kong romantic comedies are generally not known for directorial flair and beautiful cinematography, which is one reason why Love in Time is a bit of a pleasant surprise.
However, the same can't be said for Leefire and Li Yun's flawed screenplay. After a promising opening that sets up the major characters and the situations, the script fizzles out when it deviates from Cho and Tina to deal with the subplots. Zhao Ke and Sita Chan (as a local currency exchange shop girl) are both wasted with underwritten supporting characters that only serve as plot/thematic devices. Also, both characters are given denouements that are too abrupt to leave any impact.
The muddled handling of the two subplots extends to the very ending of the film, which comes so far out of left field that it will leave a bad taste in most audiences' mouths. The ending would make more sense if the writers had foreshadowed it using the film's themes. However, even if they had done so, it might not convince viewers that the final twist isn't just a cheap attempt to shock for the sake of shock.
If you can forget the the ending (which isn't hard to do if you press the stop button in time), Love in Time is that rare film that starts with low expectations and ends as a slight but refreshing surprise. It won't do much for viewers who aren’t into Hong Kong youth romantic comedies, but it offers enough to satisfy fans of the genre and the stars. More importantly, Love in Time marks a surprising redemption for Leefire. He still has a long way to go to become a good filmmaker, but he deserves a gold star for improvement. Even if that improvement is from an "F" to a "C-plus." (Kevin Ma, 12/2012)