Time Still Turns the Pages

European Premiere | In Competition | White Mulberry Award Candidate


Guest star:
Nick CHEUK, director
LO Chun Yip, actor


No one would normally expect a somber drama about suicide and depression among students to be Hong Kong’s second highest-grossing local film of the year. For better or worse, the word-of-mouth success of Time Still Turns the Pages shows just how prevalent and resonant its themes are for Hongkongers .

Perhaps it would be more comforting if writer-director Nick Cheuk merely based the events of Time Still Turns the Pages on a single person. Unfortunately, Cheuk said that in addition to basing the story on a late friend, he had heard even worse stories about strict parenting during his research process. Many of those who lived through the Hong Kong education system are likely to have experienced some version of the film’s events or know someone who did .

Growing up in the traditional Hong Kong education system is a trial by fire for many, but it’s attributed to more than the ridiculous Western stereotype of Asian “tiger parents.” A large population living in a densely populated city means obtaining anything in Hong Kong is a competition, including a spot in any reputable school. The system pits children against each other throughout their academic careers, placing them in rankings that are supposed to represent their academic aptitude. This forces parents to constantly compare their children with others. For example, the biggest academic embarrassment of my life came when I was eight years old, when I dropped from third place in my class to 16th the following semester .

For generations, Hong Kong children have complained of having to carry overweight backpacks filled with books and having too many assignments. Society’s general stigma towards mental illness also means students lack outlets to vent their frustrations. It’s not uncommon for parents who can afford it to send their kids overseas to avoid the pressure- cooker environment – and the overseas education pedigree can be used later to beat the competition, of course .

Set in a typical Hong Kong secondary school, Time Still Turns the Pages starts with schoolteacher Mr. Cheng discovering a discarded suicide note in school. During his search for the note’s writer among his students, many of whom are under different sorts of pressure in life, he finds an old diary filled with recollections of growing up under abusive middle-class parents with relentless demands for perfection .

Time Still Turns the Pages can be a gut-wrenching experience for many – it was one of the very few films where I saw a Hong Kong audience stay seated in a cinema during the credits. However, Cheuk’s approach to trauma and mental health is delicate, sensitive and intimate. The result is a heartachingly empathetic film that manages to avoid being excessively didactic. Despite the harrowing subject matter, the story ends on a hopeful note and tells those who need to hear it that they are not alone in their suffering .

Some may wonder why a film with so much empathy towards its young characters doesn’t offer the same understanding towards its adult characters. But, as the film says throughout, Hong Kong’s youth have spent all their lives hearing what adults want .

Rather than trying to be a docudrama that seeks to explain both sides, Time Still Turns the Pages says, in the gentlest of ways, that it’s time to start thinking about what Hong Kong’s youths need to get through the ruthless emotional gauntlet that is adolescence .

For those who care about the young, Time Still Turns the Pages is a cathartic experience.

Maria Barbieri
Film director: Nick CHEUK
Year: 2023
Running time: 95'
Country: Hong Kong
25/04 - 7:30 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
25-04-2024 19:30 25-04-2024 21:05Europe/Rome Time Still Turns the Pages Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org