The Chinese crime drama ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? is about unexpected guilt, moral corruption and the search for forgiveness. We reveal how captivating this turned out to be in our review of the film.
OT: Re dai wang shi (CHN 2021)
The plot summary
One pitch-dark night, Xueming (Eddie Peng) has to take detours – and in a moment of brief carelessness, runs over a pedestrian. Instead of helping the injured man, he commits a hit-and-run. He later accidentally finds out that the passerby he ran over has died. Overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, Xueming decides to help out the man’s widow, Liang Ma (Sylvia Chang), in her everyday life. He always has a confession on the tip of his tongue, but it just won’t leave his lips. Meanwhile, detective Chen (Yanhui Wang) takes on the case – and finds dangerous clues…
Are You Lonesome Tonight? Movie Meaning & ending
In Chinese pop culture, 2021 was dominated by celebrations surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party. In the cinema, this anniversary culminated in the release of the monumental war film “The Battle at Lake Changjin”. Commissioned by the National Radio and Television Authority, the Central Military Commission and the Communist Party of China, the $200 million production became the most successful Chinese film in cinema history and the world’s second-biggest box office hit of 2021. Whether the equivalent of 911.6 Box office experts argue that the million-dollar box office hit achieved this success largely on its own, or that the Chinese authorities helped, among other things, by importing an unusually few Hollywood films in 2021 and thus “eliminating” the competition. But no matter where you place yourself in this debate: It is obvious that the Chinese cinema year was characterized by encouraging, patriotic productions even beyond this material battle.
A neo-noir look cannot completely disguise the fact that the image aesthetics are sometimes immature.
Unken would shout that the People’s Republic operates entirely according to the US formula for success. But while there is no shortage of more pessimistic productions in the US film world, once you put aside the greatest escapism hits, the Chinese thriller drama “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” stands out enormously from its cinematic environment. After all, China’s government is anything but known for tolerating critical, unflattering portrayals of the country, which has around 1,412,600,000 people. So the fact that a film comes along uses dirty, grainy footage to paint a picture of a country in which a legal system that is as overwhelmed as it is inhumane prevails and entire areas of the country are completely impoverished… Well, that’s not unique, but it is rare – especially in the big anniversary year between numerous hurray-atmosphere spectacle films, that alone is reason enough to pay a lot of respect to the filmmakers. However, director Shipei Wen and Noé Dodson, Yinuo Wang and Binghao Zhao, who were responsible for the script with him, do not just rest on that, but also provide “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” with characteristics that should also appeal to those who are “socially critical “China playing in China” alone is not enough.
“The fact that this is a film that uses dirty, grainy footage to paint a picture of a country in which a legal system that is as overwhelmed as it is inhumane and entire areas of the country are completely impoverished is not unique, but it is a rarity.”
Eddie Peng thrillingly embodies his Xueming as an emaciated man ravaged by a heatwave and a guilty conscience, and the washed-out images skilfully underline this feeling of exhaustion. On top of that, Wen plays with the unreliability of memory: flashbacks are repeated at the beginning, but with varying perspectives and different details. This intensifies the feeling of insecurity. Outbreaks of comedy, for example when a parade passes Xueming and Liang Ma just as a conversation takes a turn for the better, or a sketch-like scene in which a vain arms dealer is pointedly exposed as a loudmouth, again spread uncertainty as to whether this is the case History has a light at the end of the tunnel or not.
The picture painted of China in “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” is anything but favorable.
Unfortunately, the suggestive atmosphere of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” relies heavily on the script. The thriller, shot by four (!) different cameramen, doesn’t have one like that razor-sharp, sophisticated look that he alone can handle the project. And this script is half-baked: the second half loses sight of both the “can I trust my memory?” aspect and the emotionally complicated relationship between Xueming and Liang Ma. What takes the place of these elements is far less complex and ambitious in terms of narrative and staging: the film develops more and more into a straightforward neo-noir thriller about a man who flees corruption and greed – just that Debutant feature film director Wen tells the increasingly straightforward plot, full of thriller conventions, in a babbling manner. Drama could arise from how the protagonist and his hunter react to the new circumstances, but the antagonist is a walking cliché, while Xueming, once his moral dilemma is out of focus, reveals himself to be a largely blank slate. The last third of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” degenerates into a rather unmotivated chess game in which the pieces keep changing their positions until the inevitable checkmate follows. The blurry, faded visual aesthetics in this part do not mesh with the story and its mood as much as in the first two thirds, but the staccato-like score gives the action the necessary urgency.
“The film develops more and more into a straightforwardly told neo-noir thriller about a man who flees corruption and greed – except that debut feature film director Shipei Wen tells the increasingly straightforward plot full of thriller conventions in a babbling way.”
Conclusion: “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” starts off strong, but tails off in the finale. What remains is a brave contribution to Chinese cinema based on its tonality alone, which reports on guilt and punishment against a desolate background.
“Are You Lonesome Tonight?” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from January 27, 2022.