A Time to Love is an homage to William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. However, unlike many of the sorry filmic adaptations of this play, A Time to Love is one of the more touching versions, carrying with it a pure subtlety and innocence that one would only expect from a director who has graduated from the Beijing Film Academy.
A Time to Love tells the story of the tragic relationship between Hou Jia, (played by Lu Yi) and Qu Ran (played by Vicki Zhao Wei). The film is structured in a stock standard way: childhood friends grow up to become lovers and then must tragically part. However, director Huo Jianqui adds life to this simple and clichéd plot with an amazing sense for imagery and narrative construction.
What makes this film thoroughly infectious is the sense of intimacy felt towards the characters. It is evoked by placing the narrative in a microcosm, simply encompassing only the two lovers and their families. There are no wider issues there to complicate the story — no economical hardships and no wider societal problems — just love and family. It allows the viewer to easily focus on the subtleties of Hou Jia and Qu Ran’s relationship, making them appear much more intimate and ultimately more involving for the audience.
This narrative intimacy is also reinforced through the film’s formal elements. No doubt the most provoking formal element is Huo’s amazing imagery. Huo’s camera skilfully offers a variety of camera angles and compositions that make almost every image in the film easily frame-able. Similar to Christopher Doyle’s cinematography style, Huo’s colours are rich, his textures are emphasized and his mise-en-scene is intelligently used to provide frames. Along with a keen sense of camera movement, and an understanding of character staging, Hou reinforces the film’s sense of intimacy and romance. One shot that particularly stands out is of Hou Jia’s and Qu Ran’s shadows displayed against a white sheet as they hang their laundry. The shadows come together as if approaching to kiss, however, as the camera slightly pans we see that the two characters are only playing shadow puppets. This shot, like many others in the film, gently evokes a sense of intimacy while leaving the narrative at a comfortably playful distance.
Chinese pop idols Vicki Zhao Wei and Lu Yi give exceptional performances, at times carrying the film during slower plot moments. Their emotions seem genuine and their dynamics as an onscreen couple are stunning. Vicki Zhao has a rare ability to emote the most succinct of feelings without making them too overtly dramatic, which again reinforces the subtle touch that the film cleverly displays through its imagery. Surely though, if you don’t enjoy their acting, then both Vicki Zhao Wei and Lu Yi provide enough eye-candy to keep the strictest of film critics satiated for the film’s 115 minute running time.
A Time to Love is an entertaining tear-jerker that shouldn’t be overlooked simply because of its clichéd narrative. It skilfully transcends the usual pitfalls of this type of film by making the images and narrative actively engage with the audience in an unconventionally delightful way.