Film Review: THE WASTED TIMES (China/Hong Kong 2016)

the_wasted_times_movie_posterDirector: Er Cheng
Writer: Er Cheng
Stars: You Ge, Ziyi Zhang, Tadanobu Asano

Review by Gilbert Seah

THE WASTED TIMES is a big-budget highly anticipated Chinese-Hong Kong thriller film directed by Cheng Er and starring Ge You, Zhang Ziyi and Tadanobu Asano released by Chia Lion. The film is slated for a Christmas release hoping to make it big at the box-office for both Asian and western audiences.

From the film’s opening scene – the meeting among Mr. Lu, the film’s protagonist and Japanese collaborators, the artistic design and art direction of the scene are stunning from the lighting to the decoration. The meeting culminates with the shocking dismemberment of a lady’s hand still wearing a jade bracelet.

THE WASTED TIMES is a revenge story, set mainly in Shanghai during the conflict with the Japanese from the 1930’s up to the end of World War 11 in 1945. The elements of love, hatred, and betrayal are on full display in the story. As loyal to his own people and refusal to collaborate with the Japanese, Mr. Lu is ambushed during an important meeting with the Japanese army, but his sister’s husband, Watabe sacrifices himself to save Mr. Lu. Worse still, the Japanese brutally murder Mr. Lu’s children and sister. To avenge their deaths, Mr. Lu’s mistress attempts to kill the culprit but ends up dead.

The story leads to the end of 1945 when Mr. Lu visits the abandoned wife of his former boss, Mrs. Wang. She reveals that Watabe is still alive and did not sacrifice himself to save Mr. Lu, but is actually a Japanese spy responsible for the deaths of his family members and captured her as a slave in his basement. Given this new revelation, Mr. Lu takes Mrs. Wang to the war camp where Watabe is held to finally make him pay for his bad deeds.

If the story sounds confusing, the film is even more difficult to follow. It does not help that director Er is fond of telling his tale in non-chronological order, making it artistic through weird songs (partly sung in English) and also often changing the setting of his film from Shanghai, to the Philippines to Japan. The languages spoken also shifts from Mandarin to Japanese.

The historical film is made more emotional though the introduction of characters like the county bumpkin (and his sexual innocence) who learns the ropes about gang warfare. Er also seems quite interested in the activity of sex as illustrated in the many erotic sex scenes, including an artistically staged one at the back of a car.

Western audiences are unfamiliar with Chinese history and are more often than not, uninterested. It does not help that the history is not explained either. At least the audience will assume (correctly) that the end of the Sino-Japanese war comes at the end of 1945, the end of World War II. THE WASTED TIMES will definitely be a hard sell for China Lion with this film running into stiff competition with Hollywood films like the commercial ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY as well as more artistic flair like the musical LALA LAND.



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