“Who has time for nostalgia with all the novelties out there?” asks the heroine of screenwriter Erica Li’s directorial debut Just 1 Day (給我1天), an adaptation of her own novel. She does, as it turns out, in fact that’s all she may eventually have time for in this tale of romantic transience as she, in a sense, learns to seize her future by living in the past through reconnecting with a childhood friend. 

Now in her early 30s, bank clerk Angelfish (Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin) is an unfulfilled career woman who enjoys her job chiefly for the ability to be of service to others. Meanwhile, she’s trapped in a potentially dead end relationship with a man who she’s recently discovered has a longterm girlfriend in Canada he never gets round to breaking up with. Attending a primary school reunion marking the institution’s imminent relocation, Angelfish runs into a long lost childhood friend, Mosaic (Wong Cho-lam), now a sketch artist with a sizeable online following. Unbeknownst to her, Mosaic has long been carrying a torch but never had the courage to say anything partly because of a hangup about his short stature. As we later discover, however, he’s running out of time. Paying a visit to the bank where Angelfish works to enquire about insurance he reveals he’s suffering from the same condition that killed his father, ALS, and potentially has only a few more years to live. Shooting his shot, he asks Angelfish to spend just one day with him as his “girlfriend” to cross it off his list. Provided there’s no funny stuff, she agrees but of course discovers something far more profound than a fleeting connection. 

This being Angelfish’s story, Mosaic’s illness is more or less treated as a plot device intended to confront her with her own sense of mortality so that she reassesses her life choices in order seek true happiness. Mosaic in fact teaches her this when explaining the concept of a vanishing line so that she might learn to fix her eyes on the horizon and see the rest of the world in relation to it. Meanwhile, the fact that ALS is a degenerative condition is also aligned with the idea of a world slowly disappearing, the eventual message paradoxically amounting to the notion that nothing ever really disappears because it continues to exist in the hearts and minds of everyone that remembers it. In order to preserve this sense of “nostalgia”, Mosaic meticulously sketches the old Hong Kong before its inevitable destruction while Angelfish finds her vocation in recreating it through miniature diorama. 

The conflict is brought home to her in the opposing natures of her two men, boyfriend Ken chuckling at her distress over the destruction of a local landmark by claiming that the old has to go to make way for the new, but later finding himself unable to break up with his longterm girlfriend out of a sense of expectation and obligation. One might say he is similarly trapped by “nostalgia”, or at least an emotional coward either too afraid to take a risk on new love or unwilling to abandon the security of the familiar. Her female friends, meanwhile, present two opposing paths, one a free spirited flight attendant and the other a conventional housewife whose dreams of the perfect family are eventually dashed on discovering her husband’s infidelity. To that extent, what Angelfish chooses is a kind of independence in wedding herself to a memory while paradoxically living in the moment in the knowledge that her love has its own vanishing point. 

Though boasting cinematography by Christopher Doyle, Just 1 Day is fairly conventional in shooting style akin to many other contemporary Hong Kong dramas save its brief segues into the past and eventual transition into an artificial world of nostalgic memory. Nevertheless as much a love letter to a disappearing Hong Kong as a tearjerking romantic dramedy or inspirational tale of a soon to be middle-aged woman finding fulfilment in following her heart, Just 1 Day effortlessly sells its central messages of living life to the full while making and preserving memories that will, it assures, sustain you when all else is gone. 

Teaser trailer (English subtitles)

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