Hong Kong film Time Still Turns the Pages set to release across UK cinemas by Trinity CineAsia in November.
In recent years, Hong Kong cinema has emerged a great number of young filmmakers, most of whom are either from the film academy or have returned from overseas studies. Unlike the Hong Kong filmmakers of the last century, they have begun to use a strong sense of ambience in film language , while at the same time, their content continues to touch upon social issues with strong philosophical reflections. These young people are now supporting the current Hong Kong cinema. This generation started with Juno Mak (Rigor Mortis, 2013) and Philip Young (Port of Call, 2015) , continued with Norris Wong (My Prince Edward, 2019), Cheuk-tin Ho (The Cloister of Justice, 2022), Lam Sum (The Narrow Road, 2022), Jun Li (Drifting, 2021), and international film festivals have also featured Lawrence Kwan Chun Kan (In Broad Daylight, 2023), and Nick Cheuck (Time Still Turns The Pages, 2023), all of these directors have been setting off a wave of innovation that belongs to the “Hong Kong New Cinema”, and Time Still Turns The Pages is the one that we’re going to introduce today is a very important work in this wave.
Nick Cheuk (born in October 21, 1987) is a member of the Hong Kong Screenwriters’ Guild, he is also the scriptwriter of Paradox and Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight. He is the Creative Director of the 38th Hong Kong Film Awards. Graduated from the School of Creative Media of the City University of Hong Kong in 2013, majoring in Film Arts, in 2022, Nick wrote his directorial debut Time Still Turns The Pages.
This film is about High school teacher Cheng who looks back to his repressed childhood memories, as he finds an anonymous suicide note in the classroom. He strives hard to prevent another tragedy from happening, meanwhile facing a series of family problems, his wife is divorcing him, and his father is dying. The idea of creating Time Still Turns The Pages was inspired by the issue of students’ suicide problem in Hong Kong in recent years. I wanted to analyze the causes of these tragedies and dispel the public’s misunderstanding of these children by exploring their journey in the face of pressure from their studies, families and society.
The narrative of the whole movie is neat and “deceptive”, neatly reflected in the large number of sentences and actions that appear before and after during the movie, such as the mother’s saying “If I get divorced, it is because of you”, the prophecy has unfortunately come true. The older brother shouting on the rooftop with his younger brother, this corresponds to teacher Cheng taking his student to the mountain to vent their emotions… These correspondences give the film a sad atmosphere, an atmosphere of grief and depression steeped in the past, and an intuitive feeling of being influenced by the past.
This also leads to the “deception”, which it is a good word. In the film, the director “deceives” the audience twice. The first time is that the story begins with teacher Cheng finding a suicide note, which is also a seed planted from the beginning of the movie, but when we see the whole story, we realize that it doesn’t really matter who wrote it, but rather, it’s the process of Cheng’s memory and healing of his own past that counts. The second is the perspective of remembering the past, which we take for granted during the first viewing by focusing on the narrator (although the difference in the hands of the older and younger brothers already reveals the truth), and it’s only in the middle and late stages of the movie that we come to realize this, and rethink what we’ve seen during the first hour of the movie in the perspective of remembering the past. The director does a fantastic job of mixing the two perspectives, in some cases we are indifferent “observers” of the memories as we do our homework, and in other cases we are “experiencers” of the father’s forgiveness.
In addition to this change of perspectives, the interplay between reality and memories is also full of intertexts. The phrase “I’m worth noting to anyone” appears repeatedly in the suicide note and the diary, although the movie doesn’t seem to tell a suspenseful “story”, more a fragment of a man looking back on his past because of a suicide note, the transformation of the character’s mind in the middle of the memories and the reality (the father’s death) that pushes him along like a wave are complete and mutually reinforcing, and we are able to get a view of the “misfortune” of the whole East Asian family from a suicide note.
Most of the movie is interspersed with both memories and present time, but again it’s not as messy as In the Mood for Love (2000), instead everything about the memories in this movie seems to be in order, and the last time I felt that way was when I watched Once Upon a Time in America (1984). Like this great gangster film, Nick Cheuk uses a lot of props and intentions as anchors for the editing, such as char siu, suicide note, cigarettes…using these memories to make match cuts with items that are similar to the reality (like the bones and spaceships in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the suitcase in Once Upon a Time in America).
For the characterization, the film uses hand-held shots in all but the ending sequence, which is especially noticeable in the memories; the shaking of the hand-held camera does a good job of conveying the tension and oppression to the viewer as we follow the child’s perspective as he breathes in and out of fear, and it’s the best thing the director did to bring the viewer into this worldview in the first hour.
Aside from the hand-held shots, the director also uses a lot of montages to show the disgust that the brother is hated, for example when he throws the comic book, the next shot is a view of the bottom of the trash can, with the brother’s face appearing right in the middle, does this imply that the brother is trash in the eyes of his father? In addition to all this, sound and lighting seem to be more present in Cheng’s present life; during his argument with his girlfriend, the warm light of the room turn cold in a moment… as well as the intermittent ambient sound on campus, it is these details about the film language that make the overall image more polished, and more convincing to the viewer of a world.
As I mentioned earlier about the “misfortune” of East Asian families in general, one of the key reasons why this movie struck such a chord is that it maps the current situation of many East Asian families, especially in such a complex and hectic society as Hong Kong. All the characters and family relationships in the movie are almost entirely East Asian, or more specifically Chinese, in their conception of family. The father is a standard character who is strict, who wants his children to succeed, who has always used the idea that “Hard work might not bring you success, but laziness definitely leads to failure” as a basic principle of education for his children, but who also loves his children, and who has a love-hate relationship with them.
This complexity has been well controlled by Ronald Cheng.
The mother has always played a mediating role in the family, but because of her status as a woman, she has never had much say, and has always been a symbol of patriarchal suppression, and in the end, she could not stand it and chose to get a divorce. The character of the brother is the direct victim of this tragedy, in his body there is more of an indescribable complexity, he is longing to be loved (even his last words before his death are, I feel that no one ever treats me as a family member), when his father said that he would not beat him anymore, he would hope that his father would beat him, his disappointment, his suicidal feelings are all brought from this sick family, that is a constant oppression and nightmare patriarchal rule.
Every member of the family is a murder victim, and it is the younger brother who has to suffer the longest. In a family with such a strict patriarchal system, the younger brother is inevitably taught that “the older brother is not good at school, don’t play with him”, but when he grows up, he regrets that he didn’t hold him longer.
It’s hard to say who is at fault in this family, everyone is right, or everyone is wrong, it’s a difficult question to answer from the beginning to the end. Luckily, the director doesn’t give an answer or criticize the society, the aim of the movie is to heal and reconcile with it, because life goes on no matter what.
In the final scene of the film, the camera, which has been shaking for a whole scene, finally comes to a static still, and the younger brother looks at his older brother, who he remembers as being only 10 years old, as if finally I’m living up to what you want me to be.
Time: Sunday 13:00, 19 November 2023
Venue: Lonodn Genesis Cinema, E1 4UJ