Review: ‘Yesterday Once More’ (2023), starring Chen Feiyu and Zhou Ye

May 16, 2023

by Carla Hay

Chen Feiyu (also known as Arthur Chen) and Zhou Ye in “Yesterday Once More” (Photo courtesy of Wanda Pictures)

“Yesterday Once More” (2023)

Directed by Lin Hsiao Chien (also known as Gavin Lin)

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China, the dramatic film “Yesterday Once More” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A toy designer reunites with a female friend from his childhood, and they fall in love, but when she dies in an accident, he has a choice on whether or not to go back in time and prevent her death.

Culture Audience: “Yesterday Once More” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching sentimental but well-acted romantic dramas with a sci-fi twist.

Zhou Ye and Chen Feiyu (also known as Arthur Chen) in “Yesterday Once More” (Photo courtesy of Wanda Pictures)

“Yesterday Once More” is a time-travel love story that gets a little too convoluted in order to cover up some possible plot holes. However, the performances in this drama are engaging. The movie also gives a worthwhile look at fate versus freedom of choice.

Directed by Lin Hsiao Chien (also known as Gavin Lin) and written by Xu Yi, “Yesterday Once More” is the type of earnest romantic drama that will appeal to viewers who believe in soul mates and who believe that love transcends time. It’s the type of movie that has some science-fiction elements. Therefore, suspension of disbelief is required for a great deal of the story.

“Yesterday Once More” (which takes place in unnamed cities in China) begins with the movie’s adult narrator Gu Yuxuan (played by Chen Feiyu, also known as Arthur Chen) saying, “If you had a chance to go back in time, what would you do?” The scene then shows Yuxuan at about 7 or 8 years old (played by Fu Bohan) by himself in a garden. A girl who’s about he same age as Yuxuan approaches him in a friendly manner.

Her name is Han Shuyan (played by Luo Yichun), who will end up changing Yuxuan’s life. Yuxuan tells Shuyan that today is his birthday. Shuyan says, “Let me celebrate with you.” Yuxuan and Shuyan become fast friends that day, as they frolic around the garden. They both find out that they like stuffed animal toys and are fascinated with time travel.

But the developing friendship between these two children is short-lived. After this first meeting, Yuxuan finds out that Shuyan, who lived nearby, suddenly moved away with her family. Yuxuan is emotionally crushed, because he’s a lonely child who lives in fear of his abusive, alcoholic father (played by Yang Zihua), a widower who uses alcohol as a way to cope with his grief. Yuxuan’s mother (played by Sui Jin, shown briefly in a flashback scene) died of an unnamed terminal illness. When Yuxuan was a child, his mother made birthday candles for him.

“Yesterday Once More” then fast-forwards about 15 years later. Now in his early 20s, Yuxuan is a toy designer who is happy in his career, but he has been unlucky in love, since he hasn’t found anyone who has captured his heart in the way that Shuyan did on his birthday all those years ago. As fate would have it, Yuxuan will see Shuyan again.

It happens at the wedding of Yuxuan’s best friend/co-worker Teddy (played by Sun Tianyu), who has asked Yuxuan to be the best man at the wedding. Teddy is getting married to a gorgeous social media influencer named Olivia (played by Zhao Xiaotang), who has 10 million followers on social media. Olivia and Teddy’s relationship is a case of “opposites attract,” since she is very high-maintenance and image-conscious, while Teddy is more laid-back and unpretentious.

Before the wedding ceremony starts at a banquet hall, Olivia is frantic about a problem with the wedding cake, because part of the cake has collapsed. Yuxuan goes back in the kitchen and sees a friend of Olivia’s skillfully working on fixing the cake. He joins in to help too,. And then, it dawns on Yuxuan that the woman he is working with is Shuyan (played by Zhou Ye), the long-lost “instant friend” from his childhood.

However, Shuyan doesn’t recognize Yuxan, and he’s too shy to say anything to her to remind her of their first meeting. The wedding cake get fixed. Olivia and Teddy’s lavish wedding ceremony happens without any further mishaps. At the wedding reception, Yuxan and Shuyan are seated at the same table. Yuxan is still too bashful to say anything to her or to ask for her contact information, but he steals glances at her and finds out that his feelings for Shuyan have not changed.

Yuxuan thinks he will probably never see Shuyan again. But one day, he sees her again on a bus. This time, Yuxuan decides he’s going to remind Shuyan how they met. First, he strikes up a conversation with her, because he knows she will remember him from the wedding. And then, Yuxuan gives a toy to Shuyan that he designed himself: a Time Machine Cat. And that’s how Shuyan remembers that she and Yuxuan met in their childhood on his birthday.

Shuyan and Yuxuan begin dating, fall in love, and move in together. Their relationship is serious enough where Yuxuan wants to propose marriage to Shuyan. The only problems in their relationship are some family-related issues and money troubles. Shuyan’s unnamed mother (played by Juan Zi) doesn’t approve of Shuyan’s goal to open her own bakery because she doesn’t think it’s a stable or well-paying career choice. Shuyan’s father (played by Liu Penggang) is more supportive of his daughter’s bakery dreams.

Yuxuan’s father has died and left behind large debts owed to a local thug, who threatens Yuxuan to pay back the money. Yuxuan doesn’t want to burden Shuyan with this information, so he doesn’t tell her. He also promised to help her open a bakery. As a result, his financial problems become more complicated.

However, the burden of keeping this secret, as well as Yuxuan’s grief over his father’s death, cause a strain on the relationship between Yuxuan and Shuyan. Meanwhile, Teddy and Olivia are having marital problems because she gets jealous of him spending time with another woman, and Olivia is suspicious that Teddy has been cheating on her. Teddy and Olivia separate. It looks like Olivia and Teddy could be headed for a divorce.

Teddy notices that Yuxuan is distressed over personal problems, so he recommends that Yuxuan visit an elderly book author (played by Yue Yueli), who wrote a children’s book called “Yesterday Once More.” Teddy says that this author is known to be very wise and could possibly be a psychic. Yuxuan reads “Yesterday Once More” and notices that the book doesn’t seem to have a definitive ending. The author tells Yuxuan: “Maybe what will happen was destined earlier.”

It’s already revealed in the trailer for “Yesterday Once More” that Shuyan gets killed in an accident. It happens on December 31, 2022. The movie then becomes about Yuxuan trying to prevent this accident with things that involve what the mysterious book author told him and the birthday candles that Yuxuan’s mother gave to him. There’s also a female counterpart (played by Wu Xuxu) to the book author, and she also plays a pivotal role in the story.

“Yesterday Once More” isn’t overly saccharine. It offers bittersweet observations about how childhoods can affect the way that people handle romantic relationships when they’re old enough to have these relationships. Like many children of alcoholics/addicts, Yuxuan has a pattern of keeping shameful secrets at all costs, even if it can possibly destroy the most relationship in his life. Shuyan also has to deal with self-esteem issues because of the turbulent relationship that she has with her domineering mother that goes all the way back to Shuyan’s childhood.

The movie doesn’t portray having a “soul mate” romance as the answer to life’s problems. Instead, “Yesterday Once More” admirably shows that the right relationships are meant to help people better cope with problems rather than magically make those problems disappear. Chen and Zhou are absolutely charming in their portrayals of soul mates Yuxuan and Shuyan. Some viewers might not like some of the twists and turns in the movie, but people who are fans of stories about time travel and romance will find a lot to like about “Yesterday Once More.”

Wanda Pictures released “Yesterday Once More” in select U.S. cinemas on May 5, 2023, The movie was released in Singapore on May 11, 2023.

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