Lost In Time (2003)
by: Derek Yee
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2004:
at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2004:
After losing her fiancee Man Liang (Louis Koo) in a traffic accident, Holly (Cecilia Cheung), now taking it upon herself to raise Man's son Laurie (Daichi Harashima) decides to pursue that same line of work Man died doing: driving a minibus. It comes with great difficulties but she's aided along by Hale (Lau Ching Wan) who was with Man during his last moments. The two form a bond that brings a needed comfort and a father figure into Holly and Laurie's life.
An eagerly awaited return, Derek Yee's Lost In Time was the first directorial effort of his since the surprisingly low-key, cast-wise, The Truth About Jane And Sam in 1999. That's not to say the acclaimed, but actually infrequent director, was not busy during his directing hiatus. No, he put his producing skills to work on critically acclaimed movies such as July Rhapsody and Double Tap before finally placing himself in the directing chair again and giving us Lost In Time. Derek's has previously shown a remarkable talent of bringing out the very best in either already established talent or he's managed to tap into undiscovered ones (best being Chin Kar Lok's nominated performance in Full Throttle in my opinion). The other major strength is that so called sappy or corny storylines have been truly enhanced to greatness in the hands of this director and that takes a lot of everything. Dedication, belief and focus.
All that in addition to an uncanny skill of managing to nail those little story beats makes Lost In Time a real winner despite a few, very slight niggles along the way. Veteran screenwriter James Yuen along with Fong Ching I think already has beat the movie clichés at the script stage. Despite being helped along in embodying the characters, by actors Cecilia Cheung and Lau Ching Wan, James and Fong have already put much weight to this story about mending. A story with real people, not movie people, which is one of the major strengths of the film.
The title lost in time certainly means a great deal, in particular the word lost. We get subjected to loss, grief and the main character of Holly being and getting even more lost as time goes by. We witness her trying to be strong since she's not conveying to Man's son that daddy is gone the way he is but that strength soon develops into an emotional rollercoaster of irrational behavior, ignorance, naivety and a sense of clinging on to the past in the wrong way. True, her taking on the same line of work as her late fiancee is for economy reasons but it's soon made clear that she's not in a mental position to balance her things in life. There's comfort missing or rather one person is missing. Enter Hale who supports Holly actually for all the right reasons when we meet him. His support comes in the form of a colleague and sympathy goes out to her during her hardships. The main driving point of Derek's film therefore is the question of how far he should reach out his hand. Also, what's his reasoning for going all out and taking care of every bit of broken piece in Holly's life? We're hinted as to why that is and Derek's very mature way of handling the different plot strands makes for engaging, albeit slow-paced viewing.
Just like his produced works such as July Rhapsody, Derek brings a decent subtlety to the story that is not forcing the viewer to listen but adopt a mindset of reality and a relation to the situation. The maturity to the story works greatly to the film's advantage because it's recognizable globally, in this case, what we see in the line of work of these minibus drivers. Helping along to enhance this feeling are those important fillmmaking aspects such as direction, writing, cinematography but foremost, the location work around Hong Kong. Derek isn't interested in expected structure and after a very emotional, yet rather properly restrained first act, he does really slow down and let the movie develop naturally, however long that may take. Viewers may feel a bit restless in this middle section I'm actually referring to, even underwhelmed but you do realize in the long run that all this time spent has a purpose and one certainly is glad that development all around is getting attention. For Holly and Hale, we get a larger sense of what she's about early and the journey she's helped along in but has to fully take herself is believable while Hale is the big mystery waiting to be revealed in the film. That latter point is definitely not hard to wait for and while not original, it's handled with the back turned from familiar clichés. Themes and revelations are handled with sensitivity and again, maturity. Holly and Hale are definitely real people but some filmmaking towards the end tend to stray away ever so slightly from that reality, only to instead give us some expected movie moments, which I know are beneath Derek. That's a very minor quibble I'll tell you though.
Speaking of emotional, Peter Kam's score is suitably the driving force for the melodrama. I talked about restraint in direction, in characters as written and the music plays that great role in making even those emotions feel heartfelt without being manipulative. Utilizing familiar elements such as strings, guitars and piano, Peter delivers a focused and balanced musical experience.
Just last week, at the time writing, the mentioned composer Peter Kam and actress Cecilia Cheung took home Hong Kong Film Awards for their work in Lost In Time. Previously there were great hints at Cecilia Cheung finally blossoming into a great actress but I never saw it fully happen after the impact she made in King Of Comedy. Not in Hong Kong cinema anyway, referring to her terrific role in the Korean film Failan. Another fan favourite role is Fly Me To Polaris that certainly was a good turn but plagued with such big hysterics in melodrama that made the impact less than it should've been. Derek Yee must've carefully looked at Cecilia and instead decided to carefully bring out those acting nuances when directing her. He greatly succeeded as did Cecilia as she carries the film and the struggling Holly with skill. As mentioned early, Derek has brought out the best in many actors and Cecilia is his latest achievement. She's forced to have many emotions bottled up and when that's brought out in a larger way, it's fully justified and affecting. Lau Ching Wan fares as expected equally well, having 9 years previously previously received his big break in director Yee's C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri. Lau nicely strips away his movie star aura and is aided by great costume choices to make him fit Hale. I didn't expect anything less to be honest as the Lau/Yee combination is gold beforehand, especially if it's a drama. In more of a cameo role but equally crucial, Louis Koo is the warmth to Holly's life before tragedy strikes and his flashback sequences shot in yellow, warm tones makes good use of Koo's assured presence. Little Daichi Harashima is a charming and key presence (him and Lau really have terrific chemistry) while veteran actor, and a genuine staple of Derek Yee movies, Paul Chun provides good support as the father of Holly.
Derek Yee is back and his long breaks between directing films is well worth waiting for as evident in this mature and well-written drama that is Lost In Time. With its stripped down style of filmmaking, we as an audience can fully focus and appreciate what's truly good about Hong Kong cinema nowadays: drama, preferably without teen pop stars (although Yee could probably churn out better than average performance from The Twins, Boy'z and all those people). It's not action but I urge you all to appreciate what Hong Kong cinema never really stopped doing well.
Panorama presents the film in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Signs of heavier print damage is apparent but only on a few select occasions. This is otherwise a very strong transfer with very good detail and a natural look to it.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 option choosen by me expectedly involves when it should. In this case when music kicks in, the front channels do great work. The dialogue heavy movie conveys that aspect very well through sound. A Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 options are also available.
Aside from a few spelling errors, the English subtitles are excellent. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
There were two dvd editions simultaneously released on the market. One called Gold Edition that came packed in a Lunar New Year style envelope and 12 movie postcards along with the dvd. This reviewed edition comes in a large cardboard case holding the dvd keepcase and those same 12 movie postcards. A nice touch and thankfully the keepcase has coverart so you can fit that in itself onto your dvd shelf while displaying the bigger cardboard among your limited editions or whatever.
The extras on the disc are limited though to an unsubtitled making of (20 minutes, 34 seconds). It's good for some amusing behind the scenes footage of the adorable Daichi Harashima and cast is obviously smitten with his presence on set. Otherwise, this your standard making of with interviews, movie clips and shots from the set. Nothing too exciting, especially since it doesn't have English subtitles. Rest of the extras are trailers for Lost In Time, The Spy Dad, Hidden Track and Naked Ambition.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson