Review: “The Time of Huan Nan” is a Heartful Time-Traveling Taiwanese LGBTQ Romp

With evocations of other notable Taiwanese movies, "The Time of Huan Nan" explores LGBTQ relationships, family, and Taipei’s Mongka district.

By , 9 Jul 24 03:51 GMT
Courtesy of Leading Creative CO.,LTD

The Time of Huan Nan is a multifaceted movie. Though the aim of the film–to depict the historic Huan Nan Market in Taipei’s Mongka district–is self-evident, The Time of Huan Nan is more than the sum of its parts, and it proves a heartful film. 

The Time of Huan Nan follows brash high schooler Chen Yao-hua, who works in the Huan Nan Market at the butcher stall run by his family. While trying to persuade his father, Chen Bao-ding, to stop dancing on the roof of the Huan Nan Market with a sword, Chen finds himself suddenly transported from the year 2022 to 1991. 

Courtesy of Leading Creative CO.,LTD

Mistaken for a missing high schooler, Liu Yonghui, Chen Yao-hua unexpectedly befriends the younger version of his father, his father’s close friend Chang An-jian, and the only female member of the tightly-knit friend group, Yu Kang-ming. Chen Yao-hua quickly finds himself smitten with Yu Kang-ming and, in turn, quickly realizes that his father is gay and in a relationship with Chang An-jian. But while Chen Yao-hua takes this in stride and comes to enjoy his new life in 1991, the times are not as accepting of gay relationships, and the lives of the four friends will eventually be torn apart. 

The Time of Huan Nan can be situated in the tradition of Taiwanese LGBTQ film, then, that trace the genealogy of Taiwan’s contemporary pluralism to the transition away from martial law, as with 2020’s Your Name Engraved Herein or 2012’s Girlfriend Boyfriend. Likewise, as with Girlfriend Boyfriend or 2006’s Eternal Summer, The Time of Huan Nan features the dynamic of a love triangle between a straight woman and two gay men. 

Courtesy of Leading Creative CO.,LTD

To this extent, The Time of Huan Nan seems quite conscious of Taiwanese cinematic history. Apart from visual references to Tsai Ming-liang’s The River that occur late in the movie, the dynamic between the four protagonists is reminiscent of Doze Niu’s 2010 Mongka, inclusive of the queer subtext. This is probably deliberate, given the shared setting in Taipei’s storied Mongka district, the oldest neighborhood in the city. 

The Time of Huan Nan is well-shot and excels at pacing. But it is the acting of the four protagonists that largely carries the movie, with all of them oozing charisma, and having excellent chemistry with each other. Minor characters that appear late in the film, such as Chen Yao-hua and Chang An-jian’s parents, are also strong performances despite their small roles. 

Courtesy of Leading Creative CO.,LTD

The flaws of The Time of Huan Nan are mostly narrative, then. Chen Yao-hua perhaps proves too blase about the many revelations about his father that he learns in 1991. Likewise, the movie perhaps does not stick its ending, with the time travel plot unraveling awkwardly once Yao-hua returns to 2022. Furthermore, near the conclusion, too many didactic details about the Huan Nan Market and the district of Mongka intrude all at once. 

Still, while the intention of the movie to feature the Huan Nan Market comes across as a bit too transparent, The Time of Huan Nan proves a strong entry in contemporary Taiwanese film. Even as there has been a wave of contemporary LGBTQ movies since the legalization of gay marriage in Taiwan in 2019, The Time of Huan Nan explores the relationship between a gay father and son as adults, whereas other contemporary films such as 2018’s Dear Ex mostly confined this to between a child and adult father. It is here that the time travel narrative makes the movie unique among other contemporary Taiwanese LGBTQ films and its stylistic flair makes it superior to recent hits like Marry My Dead Body. The Time of Huan Nan is not to be missed, then. 

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The Time of Huan Nan (Chinese: 環南時候)—Taiwan. Dialog in Mandarin Chinese. Directed by Leading Lee. Running time 2hr 19min. First released October 8, 2023. Starring Hsia Teng-hung, Wang Yu-ping, Edison Song, Chu Meng-hsuan. 

This article is part of Cinema Escapist’s dedicated coverage of the 2024 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF). The Time of Huan Nan will have its international premiere at the festival on Saturday July 13, 2024

This article is also published in No Man Is An Island, an online publication focused on the connections between everyday life and politics. No Man Is An Island is brought to you by the team behind New Bloom Magazine.

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