The Time You Need a Friend

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The Time You Need a Friend (1985)

91 min - - 10 January 1985
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John Woo's melodramatic tragicomedy The Time You Need a Friend (1985) stands at the crucial crossroads in the director's career. Woo had been churning out innocuous comedies for more than a few years, and after establishing the "heroic bloodshed" genre, he'd never look back. But this tale of two comedians - estranged former pals who bury the hatchet for one last show together - blends the pathos and male-bonding of Woo's later dramas with the silliness and pratfalls that marked his early works. At their peak, Ku Ren and Shem Bien were an unstoppable screen comedy team, the undisputed stars of the silent era. But a major falling out has kept the duo offstage for decades. Despite the urgings of family and friends, Ku and Shem refuse to reconcile. As both men approach their twilight years, one last chance for a reunion presents itself in the form of a televised charity benefit. Ku Ren and Shem Bien struggle to come to terms with years of bitterness, and bring the house down once again.

Director:  John Woo
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John Woo's melodramatic tragicomedy The Time You Need a Friend (1985) stands at the crucial crossroads in the director's career. Woo had been churning out innocuous comedies for more than a few years, and after establishing the "heroic bloodshed" genre, he'd never look back. But this tale of two comedians - estranged former pals who bury the hatchet for one last show together - blends the pathos and male-bonding of Woo's later dramas with the silliness and pratfalls that marked his early works. At their peak, Ku Ren and Shem Bien were an unstoppable screen comedy team, the undisputed stars of the silent era. But a major falling out has kept the duo offstage for decades. Despite the urgings of family and friends, Ku and Shem refuse to reconcile. As both men approach their twilight years, one last chance for a reunion presents itself in the form of a televised charity benefit. Ku Ren and Shem Bien struggle to come to terms with years of bitterness, and bring the house down once again.


Collections: John Woo

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Release Date:  10 January 1985

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Technical Specs

Runtime:  1 h 31 min

The first of two comedies that John Woo made in Taiwan while working for the Taipei affiliate of Hong Kong’s Cinema City, The Time You Need a Friendsteals the basic concept of The Sunshine Boys(1975) and reshapes it for Taiwan actors Sun Yueh and David Tao, as comic partners who fell out years ago but are persuaded to re-team for a charity show.

Though the start of the film directly copies the Hollywood film by featuring black-and-white scenes from the duo’s old movies (from 1941-63), the rest is fairly original. It’s the most character-driven of all of Woo’s comedies. Ku Ren (Sun) is invited to host a phone-in TV fundraiser to build a centre for handicapped children, and only at the press conference is he told that one rich donor (Linda Liu) insists that his former partner, Shen Pin (Tao), should join him. Neither of the men, now old and retired, has spoken to the other for 20 years: most of the movie is taken up with various people trying to persuade them to get together. Their first meeting in a hotel room, almost half an hour in, is a mini-classic, as each refuses to acknowledge the other’s presence and the pair go through a silent mime routine trying to upstage each other. Various subplots come and go, such as Ku discovering he has a daughter (Hsiao Yu-chi) fathered 18 years earlier on a trip to Singapore, and Shen trying to romance the rich female donor. But the film is basically a showcase for the lead actors, with veteran Taiwan actor Sun especially good.

Derek Elley

Thanks to Far East Film Festival

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