Film review: Kill Time – love finds a way in Fruit Chan’s sprawling murder mystery

Incoherent narrative and subpar performances mar an otherwise intriguing plot, adopted from Cai Jun’s novel

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 March, 2016, 6:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 March, 2016, 6:01am

The self-serving tendency of China’s lost generation – the former young adults “re-educated” in rural areas during the Cultural Revolution – forms a quietly simmering backdrop to Fruit Chan Gor’s new China-set film. Adapted from Cai Jun’s eponymous mystery novel, whose Chinese title literally puts “murder” into Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (also known as In Search of Lost Time), Kill Time is a frustratingly fragmented film that doesn’t always convince with its sprawling, decades-spanning saga of illegitimate desire and unconsummated love.

In place of Proust’s memory-triggering madeleine cakes is an old-fashioned purple scarf, purportedly the weapon used in an unsolved murder from two decades earlier. When Xiaomai (Angelababy Yeung Wing) receives a similar scarf from an enigmatic shopping website after her police sergeant father’s death, the soon-to-be-married woman is sucked back into a convoluted history of crime and passion in her community – further renewed when her friend Qianling (Reyizha Alimjan) is strangled.

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As Xiaomai looks for clues in her father’s old case files, she’s reminded of her missing boyfriend from 15 years ago, Qiushou (Ethan Ruan Ching-tien), who as a kid had briefly moved into her household after his peasant mother was murdered by said scarf. Somehow believing that Qiushou is back to take revenge on the responsible parties, Xiaomai’s investigation also leads to new discoveries about her current fiancé Shengzan (Zhang Chao), who’d had a fractious relationship with Qiushou before the latter’s disappearance.

Neither Yeung nor Ruan impress in their tormented roles, both diluted by a jumbled narrative that’s less Proustian than plain lackadaisical. The misguided tonal shift may be best exemplified by several early scenes set in Xiaomai’s apartment building, which evoke a ghostly, supernatural vibe that’s never substantiated. A sometimes engaging film undone by uncertain direction, Kill Time marks a step back for Chan after his confident adaptation of The Midnight After, a perplexing sci-fi thriller that at least shows method in its madness.

Kill Time opens on March 10

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