Sun Lu’s Shanghai romantic comedy How Long Will I love U is well made, full of clever ideas and interesting visuals, but it falls short on plot and character.
Joining the ranks of the time bending genre, which includes Back to the Future, Looper, 12 Monkeys, Forever Young, and a whole catalog of others, this film takes a light-hearted approach to misery and perceived failure when a woman (Liya Tong) from 2018 and a man (Jiayin Leu) from 1999 wake up in the same bed. They discover they can time travel using the bedroom door to their shared apartment, and use the past to make changes to their future. There’s long been a limiting factor in time travel stories that messing with the timeline is bad, and in keeping with that unwritten rule they find that their destinies may not be in their own hands.
Most of the offending elements are cultural, with the unmarried beautiful lead female character seeking to trade her independence and agency for a big house. The lead male is a kind of incel-like a*****e who thinks that’s a good deal for everybody. This is all played for laughs. The humor arises from domestic expectations unmet: everyone should be married and settling into family life in their 30’s. Materialism and financial security rate above self-awareness and authenticity. The sexual politics are from another time, if you will, and not likely appeal to #MeToo aware American audiences. At least not the Americans who would spend time on a subtitled Chinese film.
“…the offending elements are cultural, with the unmarried beautiful lead female character seeking to trade her independence and agency for a big house.“
While the the tone of the movie is at odds with the plot and the characters, it does have an air of fun and frolic about it, with the beautiful, lively scenes of Shanghai life in 1999 and 2018. The differences are not as stark as say, Mill Valley from 1955 to 1985 and there are no cartoon Libyans shooting up Doc Brown at the one-hour photo kiosk. Mostly in Shanghai the updates focus on mobile phones and technology in general. The Apple logo features prominently.
The use of the letter “U” in the title instead of spelling out the word “you” is annoying, and might possibly reflect a marketing specialist’s opinion of the current American pop culture, which if true is then also sad. Prince could get away with it, but he’s gone now.
The film begins with a cool initial conceit, but is then executed out of step with the American audience, immediately dating itself. Perhaps we’ve done enough time travel for now.
How Long Will I Love U (2018). Written and directed by Sun Lu. Starring Jiayin Lei, Liya Tong, Zheng Xu.
5 out of 10