Time, Ricky Ko’s debut feature after a decade of assistant directing, opens with its splashiest and most exciting sequence. Featuring a male and female assassin, along with their getaway driver, executing a hit, the scene utilizes comic-book freeze-frames in a sly homage to ’60s and ’70s Hong Kong action flicks. However, the film then flashes forward decades later, and shifts gears to the much slower, more ruminative mode that’s more typical of the rest of the film. The intervening years haven’t been very kind to this trio of contract killers. Chau (Patrick Tse) is now a humble noodle chef working in a cheap restaurant, who’s eventually replaced by a soup-making machine that can churn out bowls at a much faster pace. Mrs. Fung (Petrina Fung) runs a cabaret where she performs oldies on stage nightly; in her home life, she’s saddled with a shiftless son and his shrewish wife, who insists that Mrs. Fung belongs in a nursing home. Getaway driver Chung (Lam Suet) is an underemployed security guard harboring a delusional notion of marrying the much younger happy-ending masseuse he frequents, wishing to take her away from that life.
As a way to earn extra money, as well as to enliven their drab existences, the three revive their murder-for-hire careers, this time establishing a business they call “Guardian Angels of the Elders,” a euthanasia service for infirm or depressed older folks who wish to hasten their inevitable passage to the afterlife. Chau is the one sent to carry out these assisted suicides, using his trusty, steely curved blade. Things get complicated when Tsz-ying (Chung Suet-ying), a teenage girl, attempts to use the service, distraught and suicidal over an asshole boyfriend who knocked her up and then ghosted her. Thwarted in her desire to kill herself, she then tries to make Chau into some sort of surrogate father.
Time ultimately proves to be a modestly genial dramedy, injected with commentary on the neglect of, and inadequate social services for, Hong Kong’s elderly citizens. However, it doesn’t push so hard on this that it disrupts the film’s low-key, rambling mood. The presence of beloved veteran actors Tse and Fung evoke nostalgia for classic Hong Kong cinema, and the addition of the much younger Suet (a delightful character actor whom fans of Johnnie To’s films will quickly recognize), makes for a pleasant viewing experience. And even if all this doesn’t add up to anything terribly significant, one won’t feel as if they’ve wasted any of the titular commodity.
Published as part of NYAFF 2021 — Dispatch 4.