There’s a box of pictures sitting in my closet, wholly unorganized but filled to the brim with memories. One photo, in particular, stands out. Three women smile at the camera. The youngest, who is barely out of her teens, has a toddler on her hip. Four generations. Two of them are gone now. I am the youngest woman holding the toddler. If I had known then that my mother and grandmother would not be standing with me now, that they would be gone not long after the photo was taken, there are so many things I would have told them.
If I had the opportunity to pay someone to say those words for me, I would. Link Click or Shi Guang Da Li Ren, an original Chinese donghua (Chinese animation) animated by Haoliners Animation League, offers viewers this experience.
Welcome to the Time Photo Shop, where all clients need is a photograph and a request they want to fulfill. With a high-five and a twelve-hour window, shop owner Cheng Xiaoshi vanishes into the picture where he assumes the identity of the person associated with it while his partner, Lu Guang, directs what Cheng Xiaoshi says and does. The goal is to complete their mission without changing the past. Simple enough, right? Wrong.
Link Click is powerful. The concept itself is reason enough to watch. Although it seems like a standard time travel trope, this donghua is much more than that.
It’s all about the photograph.
We all have memories captured by a camera lens. These images are especially relevant to our current society, where everything is snapped for the sake of a social media post. Memories are no longer relegated to a box inside a closet. They are floating digitally on the web, freeze-framed moments that we will never forget shared with millions of strangers. These photos may mean nothing to us when we scroll past them on our phones or devices, but they are powerful to the people inside of them, like the picture inside my closet. To others, my picture is simply three women and a baby. For me, it’s a moment I will never be able to recapture.
That’s what makes this donghua so unique and potent. The old adage “The pen is mightier than the sword” holds true now, but images are just as mighty as spoken and written words. I can’t look at the photograph of me with my mother and grandmother without being overcome with emotion.
Link Click does a fantastic job of taking these kinds of emotions and integrating them into the lives of the two men who own the Time Photo Shop. Each episode mingles their personal feelings with other lives in a very vivid way. Their job is to manipulate just enough to satisfy their client’s requests without changing the past. But these are two very human men with very human histories and very human emotions. Cheng Xiaoshi is particularly affected. For twelve hours, he assumes someone else’s life and someone else’s feelings.
Have you ever been told that the best way to understand someone is to spend a day walking in their shoes? Imagine actually getting the chance to do that. Now imagine walking away from that person’s life without being affected by it, especially if you have past experiences that make you empathetic towards the person you temporarily became. After the first few episodes of Link Click, it’s immediately apparent that Cheng Xiaoshi has a hard time separating himself from the lives he assumes. I adore his sense of justice and his empathy, even if those same human qualities often find him risking the one thing he and Lu Guang can’t risk: changing history.
Link Click takes someone else’s captured memory and inadvertently uses it to connect with Cheng Xiaoshi’s and Lu Guang’s pasts. Flashbacks give us hints about how these two men met while also giving us a glimpse into what made them into the men they are now, especially Cheng Xiaoshi.
Link Click is a donghua that shouldn’t be spoiled. It should be experienced. Not only because the series expounds on the power of captured images, but because it is easy to become attached to both Cheng Xiaoshi and Lu Guang. These two men are like the positive and negative sides of the same battery while also managing to be the perfect partners. They care about each other in a profoundly deep way. It’s still unclear if there is a BL loveline in Link Click, but the brotherhood between Cheng Xiaoshi and Lu Guang is enough to draw in any viewer looking for the kind of affection they have for each other.
The angst is just beginning.
What brings these two men together may also tear them apart. In the process of righting regrets, they may end up with their own. The seemingly cold Lu Guang is inwardly warm-hearted. In an attempt to protect Cheng Xiaoshi, he holds secrets about the lives inside the photographs close to his heart. But will that come back to haunt him later?
Both men are struggling. While Lu Guang is trying to hold Cheng Xiaoshi and the past together, Cheng Xiaoshi is becoming alarmingly close to altering that past. Do you save the ones you love at the risk of losing others you’ve come to care for? What happens when no matter the choice you make, you lose someone?
Link Click is leaving a lot of intriguing questions behind with each episode.
I highly recommend experiencing this donghua for yourself. While watching, think about the one photograph you own you wish you could go back into, the one moment in time you wish you could change. Even if it’s simply uttering the words “I love you” to someone you didn’t realize you would lose.
Check out Link Click on Bilibili and Funimation. It’s worth every moment. The opening and ending themes, “Dive Back in Time” by Bai Sha JAWS and “Overthink” by Fan Ka, are just as powerful as the donghua itself and a clear example of how music can bolster an already great project.
Rating- 4 out of 5