Genre: Drama
Director: Nick Cheuk
Cast: Lo Chun Yip, Ronald Cheng, Hanna Chan, Rosa Maria Velasco, Sean Wong
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Sexual References)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 11 April 2024

Synopsis: High school teacher Cheng 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.

Movie Review:

Time still turns the pages, although that doesn’t mean we get to write a new chapter of our life, especially if we don’t deal with the traumas of our past. That is the long and short of Nick Cheuk’s critically acclaimed drama, which intertwines two stories in the past and present to tell of how we can be prisoners of our own guilt.

The film opens with a 10-year-old boy jumping off the roof of his apartment building, before emerging seconds later standing up on a ledge shouting at the top of his voice that he will get into Hong Kong University. That boy, we later learn, is Eli (Sean Wong), the older but not quite as bright son of a stern and occasionally abusive father (Ronald Cheng) and a long-suffering mother (Rosa Maria Velasco). His younger brother Vincent (Curtis Ho) is better not only at grades but also at piano, and is not surprisingly the more favoured child among his parents.

It should also not come as a surprise that Eli will at some point really commit suicide, and over the course of the first two acts of the film, Eli’s spiral from a quietly motivated kid to an utterly demoralised individual is therefore expected but no less devastating to watch. Not for lack of trying, Eli doesn’t do well enough to be promoted to the next grade, and ends up being in the same class as Vincent. His parents change out his piano teacher, thinking that she is too lenient with him. And in perhaps the most significant blow, he hears on the TV one day that his favourite manga artist had killed himself.

Eli’s story unfolds in parallel with that of high-school teacher Mr Cheng (Lo Chun-yip) in present day, who is unusually troubled when he is alerted to a suicide note discovered by the school janitor in his classroom’s rubbish bin. Mr Cheng goes to lengths to try to identify the student at risk, all the while suspecting that it could be the angst-ridden Vincent (Hennick Chou) who is picked on by his schoolmates and given the derogatory nickname ‘Van Gogh’ due to his hearing issues.

If there was any doubt, it soon becomes clear this is in fact Mr Cheng’s story, with the episode triggering not only memories from his childhood past but also of his recent separation with his wife Sherry (Hanna Chan). To say more would give away the third-act reveal, of who Mr Cheng is in relation to the first story as well as why his marriage had disintegrated right after Sherry had told him that she was pregnant with his child.  

While seemingly disjointed, the two stories in fact fit hand in glove with each other, but it does require that you sit through two deliberately paced acts before the heartbreaking reveal. Indeed, those expecting a gripping time may come off frustrated by how Cheuk takes his time throughout the first hour to focus on the minutiae of his characters’ lives and predicaments, but rest assured that your patience will be rewarded by how beautifully Cheuk connects the various threads together.

For this reviewer, what is particularly poignant is how the film exemplifies how indelible our formative experiences in childhood prove to be in our adult life, and no matter how we choose to deny our past, there will be inflexion points which force us to come to terms with how we have been shaped by our upbringing. We will add too that Eli’s circumstance will probably resonate with many who have endured similar patriarchal behaviour, some of whom may even have contemplated what Eli resorted to after falling into depression.

It isn’t perfect – for one, the pacing could be tighter – but ‘Time Still Turns the Pages’ is a great example of the new wave of social dramas that a new generation of Hong Kong filmmakers are finding their voice in. Subtle, heartfelt and sincere to the bone, this examination of how our past reverberates through our present hits the right notes by most counts, save perhaps for a number of contrivances that Eli is put through. That said, it is incredibly restrained and keenly observed, and for a first-time feature film, a remarkably assured debut of grace, equanimity and purpose.

Movie Rating:

(Subtle, heartfelt and sincere to the bone, this examination of how our past reverberates through our present brims with grace, equanimity and purpose)

Review by Gabriel Chong



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