The most visceral aspect of Are You Lonesome Tonight? is its mesmeric use of colour and light. The screen is frequently flooded with bright reds and greens, or entirely washed out under an overbearing sunlight. Director Wen Shipei has such deft control of these elements that he’s able to navigate the morally treacherous paths the plot is driving down. He manages to enhance the sense of shock, ambiguity and surrealism which the script, unfortunately, seems to lack.

Told through a confusing mix of memory, flashback and narration, the story follows Xue Ming after he accidentally hits and kills a man with his car. Wracked with guilt, Xue connects with Liang Ma, the man’s widow. He attempts to confess his crime, but repeatedly finds he cannot bring himself to do it. The film sits somewhere between Chung Mong-Hong’s heart-breaking A Sun, and the yearning, visually exuberant work of Wong Kar-Wai. While there’s a lot to be impressed with here, Wen’s film is ultimately less than the sum of its parts, especially as it moves into its second half, where it ditches the more interesting relationship between Xue and Liang to focus on a by-the-numbers crime story. Here, Xue’s idiom-filled narration and even Wen’s striking visual style starts to grate.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting debut held up by great subtle performances from Eddie Peng and Sylvia Chung (as Xue and Liang), and a fantastically chaotic score of elegiac strings and electronic dread from Hank Lee. This is a feast for the eyes, just not for the soul.

Wen’s fascinating visuals seem at odds with the plot contrivances and narrative changes, and while he borrows from directors who have successfully blended such elements, he himself cannot hold it all together. There’s a lot to love in this debut, so let’s hope Wen has a slightly stronger script for next time.

RATING: 3/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Eddie Peng, Sylvia Chung, Yanhui Wang

DIRECTOR: Wen Shipei 

WRITERS: Noé Dodson, Yinuo Wang, Wen Shipei, Binghao Zhao

SYNOPSIS: After Xue Ming accidentally hits a man with his car, he decides to hide the body and move on. Wracked with guilt, he cannot forget his actions, and tries to make amends by building a relationship with Liang Ma, the woman he made a widow. Xue’s sense of guilt and morality only get more confused as the relationship grows and the events of that night are revealed to be more mysterious than he thought.