There are no victories too small in Lik Ho’s dramatic, uplifting directorial debut
“For once in your life, cheer yourself on.”
I don’t like to talk about it much, but I’ve dedicated a not insignificant portion of my life to running. I haven’t mentioned it a lot mostly because that would be somewhat out of place on a site dedicated to East Asian cinema, but also in my real life because nobody likes the person who’s always going on about their running hobby. As far as doing it to keep fit, it’s always a bit of a drag, and I rarely find the motivation to do it, unless I’m competing with a friend or working towards a particular goal. Because of my lack of drive in doing anything sporty I’ve never quite connected to the main characters of sports films. They’re always just so damn driven and I can never figure out what it is about their particular activity of choice that gets them so pumped.
But then we have a film like I Still Remember. It’s a sports drama, like many before it. But it’s not about big victories, medals and tournaments. Instead, the film looks at the smaller goals regular people strive towards, and the difficulties in not only getting started, but staying on course when life comes at you.
Lee Chi Hang (Tony Wu) is something of a fuckup. The sort of guy without a tonne of ambition in his life, who currently works as a real estate agent at his childhood friend’s realty company. After a reunion with his primary school friends and their teacher Mr Wong (Patrick Tam), Chi finds himself waking up in Wong’s sporting goods store – having crashed there after drinking too much. He learns that he’s been roped into joining Mr Wong’s running class, which he created to also train himself for an upcoming 10k he wants to run with his wife, alongside a young woman called Tin Sum (Toby Choi). Tin Sum is overweight and has joined in order to compete in a 5k run with her favourite J-pop idol.
Although Chi is ostensibly the protagonist of the movie, the emotional core of the film lies with both Wong and Tin Sum. Wong’s dedication to his wife as well as to his students is extremely sweet and the film knows it, milking the emotions in each scene just enough (such as the heart-breaking shot of him clutching his wife’s running number during the 10k) without overdoing it and coming off saccharine. Tin Sum, meanwhile, packs on the inspiration by being so wholeheartedly dedicated to her goal it makes you want to get up and start training too. In fact, though his flaws are the dramatic centre of the story, Chi kind of seems like a bit of an ass for a lot of the film, not that he’s so bad or anything, it’s more just that the others around him are so sweet and loveable by comparison.
The thesis of just about every sports movie is to follow your dreams, and you’ll come out on top. Generally, the protagonists desire to be number one, or win a particular tournament – and by the time end credits they’re clutching the trophy while the crowd goes wild. That’s all well and good, but my favourite types of sports films do things a little differently. Some dreams are much smaller, and that’s also perfectly acceptable. Chi is a character who has no real aim, and no reason to care where his life is going. To others, the hurdles he overcomes aren’t major but for him (and to Wong and Tin Sum) these are the biggest steps they’re having to take and their struggle feels real, grounded and most of all contextually huge.
Occasionally, I Still Remember’s editing and pacing gets a little wonky. It’ll do this thing where it shows something significant happening (for example, Chi’s love interest and co-worker Ling returning a crystal to him), only to show why it’s significant after the fact. This makes those moments feel less impactful and instead they give off an aura of mystery instead, which is probably not what was intended. They happen here and there and with the constantly jumping timeline (and honestly somewhat pointless framing device of Chi talking to his editor) things can get a little muddled from time to time. It’s nothing major, but considering the straightforward nature of the plot I think the film might have benefitted from a simpler storytelling method.
Nevertheless, as a directorial debut, I Still Remember is very well put together, and its touching and heartfelt story is strengthened by some beautiful cinematography, a top rate soundtrack (including the compulsory titular theme song, sung by On Chan) and excellent casting choices. I think the realistic portrayal of its characters will allow it to speak to people who even aren’t all that concerned with cardio, as the struggles are relatable regardless of the details. Though that said, it probably spoke more to me as a lazy man who was roped into doing a half marathon, and whose knee gave in before even the halfway mark. That 10k felt all too real.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Inspirational musical moments: I counted 3
Adorable school songs: 1
Symbolism: A cold egg waffle
5k run ideas: Tram chasing isn’t a half bad idea, actually
10k personal best: 1 hour 53.
I Still Remember (2021)
Also known as: 二次人生
Director: Lik Ho
Writer: Lik Ho
Patrick Tam – Mr Wong
Tony Wu – Lee Chi Hang
Toby Choi – Tin Sum
Johnny Hui – Yu Leung
Sofiee Ng – Chi Ling
Isabel Chan – Lam Wai Ying
Jocelyn Choi – Coby