Su Lun’s Shanghai-set romance uses a rift in time to bring unlikely lovers together.
A peculiar variety of spacetime wormhole offers a status-hungry woman her long-sought chance to marry rich in How Long Will I Love You, a Shanghai-set fantasy rom-com from sophomore director Su Lun. Oddly pitched for American auds, the pic takes a long time making one side of its present-/past-tense couple sympathetic and isn’t very agile at handling subplots that seem (wrongly) to be headed nowhere. But some clever ideas and a perky tone may endear the import to viewers on the specialty market, and some English-language producers may find themselves imagining how they’d improve things in a remake.
Liya Tong (a lead in the new Chinese TV series Great Expectations) stars as Gu, a very pretty 31-year-old who is holding out for Daddy Warbucks. When we meet her, she’s on a web matchmaking service, explicitly telling suitors that she’ll marry the first one of them who is willing to buy her a mansion. The movie is broad and not very convincing as it depicts this scheme, and is likewise shaky introducing the plight of Lu (Jiayin Lei). He’s a designer and would-be property developer who can’t get anyone to invest in his projects; when he overhears a colleague planning to betray their boss, Lu gets into an odd kind of extortion arrangement that may give him the backing he needs.
Both are scraping by in their respective eras, her in 2018 and him in 1999. Then, with no prelude, a mysterious rift opens, and a kind of timequake squashes their tiny apartments together, jumbling his possessions with hers and, naturally, fusing their beds into one oversized one. The dwellings share a single door: When she opens it, they can both step out into the present; if he holds the knob, they walk into the past.
The two are so busy annoying each other (mostly because he can’t abide her vanity and materialism) that it takes them 41 minutes of the film to arrive at the first idea anyone else would have: Look up 1999’s winning lottery numbers in 2018, then scurry back and get rich. (Across town, the shady businessmen and scientists who are responsible for this wormhole have in mind a technology-theft scenario that plays into real-world talk of America-China sanctions.)
The couple’s get-rich scheme doesn’t work as planned, and other attempts to cheat the universe go goofily awry. Time travel isn’t nearly as fun here as one expects. But the delays give Gu a chance to grow fond of Lu — especially when she realizes that the 1999 Lu she’s currently living with eventually becomes a very rich, barely aged real estate tycoon.
So Lu becomes his own romantic rival, and while the film doesn’t have as much fun as it might in watching Lei play 2018 Lu off against the 1999 version — in fact, scenes with the former are pretty glum — the moral and emotional ramifications of all this are thorny enough to keep us engaged, doing a bit of the screenplay’s work for it.
One or two more complications in the last act are satisfying, but the director and his actors never really make the Gu/Lu connection persuasive. Even close to the end, one might have a hard time wanting a happily-whenever-after for this shallow woman and the sloppy but sensitive guy who probably deserves better.
Production company: Youth Enlight Picture
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Jiayin Lei, Liya Tong
Director-screenwriter: Su Lun
Producer: Zheng Xu
Editor: Ron Chan