I was invited to last night’s debut of ‘Our Time Will Come’ 明月幾時有, at the Taipei Film Festival. I’ll get to the point. I really enjoyed it.
A true story, the film is about the day-to-day efforts of resistance fighters against Japanese-occupied Hong Kong during World War 2.
Our hero is Fang Lan, an unassuming but rebellious primary school teacher who grows to become leader of a guerrilla unit. The film centers on Lan’s personal relationships with young fighters and her elderly single mother.
Director Ann Hui – Hong Kong’s most award-winning filmmaker – took an approach that’s part documentary-style, incorporating interviews with people who lived the story. Including, many stationery shots from the bottom-up, to give the audience a sense of spying on characters (who are hiding in plain sight).
So this style isn’t out-of-place for films from the 1940s. ‘Our Time Will Come’ is a film noir played out in Hong Kong. Trust is a major issue. The central character is an anti-hero, the Japanese commander is an anti-villain. Even the documentary aspect is shot in black & white, and flashes back and forward. Hui hits a lot of other tropes of this genre. These are just the most obvious ones. There’s more you’ll spot in the trailers.
It’s also beautifully scored. That has nothing to do with film noir. I just felt like mentioning that.
If you can, see it in Cantonese — the language the resistance would have spoken. In Taiwan, Our Time Will Come is dubbed in Chinese, with English subtitles.
Our Time Will Come and Taiwan
The male leads are both from Taiwan. But why Taiwanese people should care is there aren’t many films covering life in Japanese-occupied Chinese (ethnically) territories during World War 2 (WW2). In these areas, it wasn’t daily business as usual. But people still had to do the same things they had to do. Residents weren’t always at odds with each other.
Those films that do, typically focus more on combat, love in the time of war, and have a very aggressive portrayal of Japanese soldiers. Hui made a character-driven piece, not a war epic. Identity, not international politics.
Anyway, what does Taiwan have to do with Hong Kong? Taiwan was also a Japanese-occupied Chinese territory, although for a much longer period of time. This topic is far more complex than I can give it space for. It’s also not really about Taiwan or Hong Kong or China or Japan.
The best way I know how to summarize it is how people’s sense of self and way of life is squeezed, when they feel like they are under the rule of an occupying force. Americans know this feeling (Brexit 1776, cough). People in Hong Kong and Taiwan have felt it at different times in different ways. I’ll leave it there.
The Resistance Against Japanese-Occupied Hong Kong
“The Hong Kong government has never officially recognized the efforts of the East River Column.” – Chang Sui-Jeung
Hong Kong’s WW2 resistance is a story that hasn’t really been told. Largely, only in local literature. And even then, mostly forgotten — try Googling it.
As Chang Sui-Jeung 陳瑞璋, author of “East River Column: Hong Kong Guerrillas in the Second World War and After” points out, the Hong Kong government has never officially recognized the efforts of the East River Column. This is partly because the group was supported by Chinese communist leaders.
It goes without saying that Hong Kong has a complicated relationship with communist China. Even today. Some believe recognizing the East River Brigade means acknowledging communist China’s role in freeing Japanese-held Hong Kong. I don’t like getting involved in politics. I do think it’s helpful for people to see that what once was true, wasn’t always, and may not be, in the future.
The most political the film gets is a scene depicting the smuggling of intellectuals out of China. A true story. Considering the Communist Party’s role in their own purge of many thought leaders, and the ups and downs of the Cultural Revolution, this is going to surprise people. Chinese history is complicated.
Some people mention there’s other Communist propaganda here. For example, our heroes, although spirited, are mostly tasked with ordinary things and honored for their bravery. Empowering young people with doing what is necessary, while encouraging them to come together for a common cause is a theme of films made during the Cultural Revolution. And, almost every other wartime movie ever made. I’m not a China scholar. It’s possible some people read too much into this. That’s just my personal opinion.
The Cantonese trailer for the Hong Kong market has more action:
A lot of the Q&A had to do with the film’s usefulness as a political tool. Is it a true story? What politics does it reflect? Is it really a true story? Understandable, since we’re on the lip of the 20th anniversary of the Chinese takeover of British Hong Kong. And, Taiwan has its own complicated relationship with China.
Filmmaking is an inherently political exercise. Although, character-driven movies are about people. Politics helps establish culture. The political machinery sets the scene. But this type of film is about the artistry revealed of the character’s emotions and decision-making process. This story is particular because of the protagonist’s courage. Sense-making. And strengths as an independent woman.
Sacrificing for each other while doing ordinary things at an extraordinary time.
A lot of people will be drawn to this film because of the war of that time, and the present debate going on over how Hong Kong should be ruled. However, people fighting for their everyday lives is a rich enough context, and this is where the film exists. Sacrificing for each other while doing ordinary things at an extraordinary time. Like ‘The Pianist,’ ‘Our Time Will Come’ is a glimpse into the treasure chest of forgotten stories from this era.
It’s controversial for a lot of the wrong reasons, which is unfortunate because there are a lot of other unintentionally “contemporary” themes here. The single mother. Lan’s refusal to get married for the sake of getting married. Maternal bonds. Parents just don’t understand. And a few others that are totally relatable.