I’ve watched so many coming-of-age tragi-romance stories that I’m starting to lose track! Fleet of Time is the next one on my personal hit list, starring Peng Yuyuan (LOVE, Love You You) and Ni Ni (Flowers of War) as the two lead lovers Chen Xun and Fang Hui.
Like the typical Chinese tragi-romance narrative, Chen Xun and Fang Hui initially meet in the same high school class in the context of Fang Xun being a newcomer to their class. Set in the background of college admissions, Chen Xun chases after the quiet and shy Fang Hui, eventually winning her over, and sacrificing his attendance of a better university to continue to be with her. However, once in college, their relationship quickly starts to fray at the edges and tear. Frictions between them are amplified and their relationship eventually falls apart when, in a darker turn of events, Fang Hui sleeps with another guy after a particularly bad fight with Chen Xun, causing pregnancies and abortions galore.
While I am generally a fan of the genre and don’t mind repetitive storylines, I found Fleet of Time to be rather dissatisfying due to its poor execution. At no point did I really feel gripped by the story of Chen Xun and Fang Hui, and their story seemed more mundane than anything else — and the sudden darker turn of events towards the end of the film felt more like a surprisingly unplanned misery added in for a perfunctory “shock” factor rather than an event that caused me to be particularly sympathetic.
In telling their story during flashbacks, Chen Xun never seemed particularly emotionally invested — his character appeared disaffected, as if the past was easily locked away and did not plague him any more, suggesting that maybe after all, Fang Hui was not that special. That is certainly not a quality that one expects to see in a tragi-romance film describing the two main characters. At the same time, particular scenes in Fleet of Time carried great dialog and some particular moments were very well written — especially the drama of the conflict between Chen Xun and Fang Hui, and the fallout that followed. However, these small moments of excellence in my opinion were not enough to mitigate the overall poor execution of the film and I found it difficult to remain engaged.
Fleet of Time does try to speak some truths about young relationships though, almost as if to give advice to its presumably young and naive audience. Chen Xun in reflection reminds us that “while we are young, we often start a relationship without much thought, but grieve deeply when it ends. But when we are more mature, although we avoided the childish sorrow, we also lost the courage we once had.” In many ways, Chen Xun’s sagely reflection demonstrates what went wrong with Fleet of Time as a tragi-romance film — it tried to be the more “mature” and tempered companion to films such as My Old Classmate or So Young, but in doing so, it lost the deep passion and heart-wrenching sorrow that made those films so great to watch.
Fleet of Time (Chinese: 匆匆那年)—China. Directed by Zhang Yibai. First released December 2014. Running time 1hr 59min. Starring Peng Yuyuan and Ni Ni.