Time Renegades is a time-travel crime thriller love-story that contains no actual time travel. Yes, Time-Travel Crime Thriller Love-Story. And yes, NO ACTUAL TIME TRAVEL. It’s complicated.
The premise: two men living 32 years apart become telepathically entwined through parallel traumas. One is a police detective living in 2015 and the other is a high school music teacher living in 1983. As they exchange information about their lives through their dreams, they discover how to work together and set out to stop a serial killer in the past/present….to save the woman they both love in the present/future. And notice that “woman” is singular. Also there might be some reincarnation involved. See, it’s complicated. And to say more might be too spoiler-y.
The autuer (director and co-writer) is veteran romance filmmaker Kwak Jae Young, perhaps best known to Western audiences as the writer/director behind the seminal Hallyu hit, My Sassy Girl (2001). Time Renegades is quite skillfully directed. This is not Kwak’s first romance-mystery, nor is it his first romance-time-travel film, but it may mark a new direction for the filmmaker as it delves headlong into the thriller genre. Here Kwak successfully weaves love-lines with intrigue and suspense in a way that doesn’t feel forced or sappy, and the super-saturated color palettes he employs -a warm fuzzy glow for the 1980s and a cool, dark, stylized starkness for 2015- help cue the viewer to the fantasy nature of the film and gives plausibility to the premise.
It also helps having three capable actors in the leading roles. Leading lady and established film star Lim Soo Jung (I’m a Cyborg But That’s Ok, Finding Mr. Destiny) gets top billing for her double-role as the plucky but ill-fated love interest(s) in need of protection. Lim’s signature charm and spunk shine, and she brings nuanced differences to each iteration of her character. Mad feminist points go also to the screenwriters for creating a damsel in distress with agency. Lim’s character(s) may be victim of fate and circumstance, but she is never sitting around waiting to be rescued. Though she has less screen time than her male co-stars, her role is never one of passive love-object. She is a fully formed character, not a caricature or a romanticized ideal -which is incredibly refreshing.
Male leads Lee Jin Wook (Nine: Nine Times Time Travel, Miss Granny) and Jo Jung Suk (The Face Reader, Oh My Ghostess) are both established actors whose careers straddle tv dramas and feature films, both in and out of the romance genre. Lee infuses his police detective with surprising comedy and Jo -frequently the comedian- adds a man with nothing left to lose to his growing portfolio of versatility. The OTHER Lee Min Ho (Rooftop Prince, not Boys Over Flowers) should also get a shout-out for his solid performance as a rebel-high-school-student-turned-sidekick-detective.
Music plays an integral part of the storytelling in Time Renegades, as well. The score is eerie and haunting in all the right places, and contributes marvelously to the film’s atmosphere. Somehow it is not at all surprising to learn that Time Renegade’s music director, Kim Jun Seong, was also responsible for the fantastic scoring of another recent fantasy film: the inexplicably magical sob-fest called A Werewolf Boy (2012). As with AWB, Kim’s scoring will ensure the film lingers on your mind long after Time Renegades’ credits have stopped rolling.
All in All, Time Renegades is well-made film: compelling story and characters, good pacing, excellent score, never boring, a couple of well-placed twists, a highly satisfying final confrontation -punctuated with inventive use of handcuffs- and a surprising denouement that will leave you scratching your head in a good way -possibly making you wonder if you should watch the film again right away. Yes, it’s hard to find a time travel film that doesn’t have a plot hole or two, but this one is guilty of fewer holes than a good number of recent Hollywood films.
So, if you can reconcile the concepts of earnest love story mashed up with time-bending crime thriller without experiencing mental breakdown, you’ll find Time Renegades is an engaging and entertaining film with rewarding emotional payoff. And if you are a fan of any of the actors involved, you’ll definitely want to check out this film anyway!
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Time Renegades premiered in Los Angeles (at CGV Cinemas) on Friday, April 15, followed by a wider North American release on April 22 in Fullerton, Washington D.C., New Jersey, Dallas, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Vancouver, and Toronto. For more information, please visit: www.cj-entertainment.com.