Link Click

In a quiet corner of an unidentified Chinese metropolis, there exists a nondescript store called the “Time Photo Studio”. The two young proprietors, Lu Guang and Cheng Xiaoshi, not only engage in the incongruous business of developing photographs from film – they also run a special service where those in the know can commission Lu and Cheng to “jump” into photographs and participate in the events depicted therein. In doing so, Lu and Cheng can help their clients address unresolved regrets about past events, lost loves, and unspoken words. But this “fixit” service comes with limits: the laws of causality demand that the critical event junctures of the past – referred to as “important nodes” – cannot be altered. If these “nodes” are interfered with, not only the past but the future will change as well – and Lu and Cheng might even cease to exist.  The preternaturally calm and mature Lu understands this law very clearly; but the headstrong and idealistic Cheng finds himself repeatedly tempted to stray beyond the terms of his commission in his well-intentioned efforts to help others. Painfully, he must learn that there are aspects of reality that must not be interfered with, and that part of the price of being human is learning when to let go and allow others to chart the course of their lives. All of which is difficult enough; but when the partners – aided and abetted by their no-nonsense landlady Qiao Ling – begin to realise that there is another time-travelling power that is influencing the events in which they are involved, they find themselves caught up in a deadly race against time itself – and an evil whose ultimate target may be none other than Lu and Cheng…

Developed and produced by Shanghai based animation studio Haoliners Animation League – who were responsible for the beautiful and moving 2018 feature “Flavors of Tomorrow”, co-produced with Makato Shinkai’s Co-Mix Wave Studios – “Link Click” premiered on the Chinese web animation service Bilibili in April 2021.  Beautifully animated in Haoliners’ trademark mix of detailed 2D/3D backgrounds and striking character designs, “Link Click” is both episodic in nature and unified by an overarching narrative established in the opening episode and brought to a cliff-hanger climax eleven episodes later (a standalone “special episode” was also produced). In the process, we learn about the nature of time and consequence, the unfulfilled longings and regrets that every person carries through life, and the harsh truth that we cannot live other people’s lives for them – however much we might want to “make a difference” or “do good”. Supporting this narrative is an engaging soundtrack comprised of atmospheric chillhop moods supplemented by a combination of surprisingly effective Asia-pop ballads and hiphop beats. Even though the English subtitles are not always reliable, this in no way diminishes the overall production; and the whole comes together in a powerful and affecting denouement whose loose ends point to the second series that has already – and deservedly – been commissioned. Lovely to watch and compellingly realised, “Link Click” is a thoughtful and touching meditation on painful truths – and on the human heart’s capacity to generate hope, even in the face of the terrible finality of the past.

Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.