Are You Lonesome Tonight?
by Rachel Willis
A distracted driver makes a series of bad decisions one dark evening, setting the tone for director Shipei Wen’s first feature, Are You Lonesome Tonight (Re dai wang shi).
This is a film you expect to go a certain way, so when it veers off in a different direction, it’s an intriguing but not necessarily satisfying choice. The film follows a predictable pattern even though it might not be the pattern you were initially anticipating.
The movie’s two leads, Xueming (Eddie Peng) and Ma (Sylvia Chang), are what’s most appealing. Though Xueming is a bit too similar to characters we’ve seen many times before, Ma is more complicated. Because Ma has lost both a husband and a son, you might expect her to put Xueming into the role of son – and in some ways, she does, but emotionally, she keeps him at arm’s length.
We don’t spend as much time with Ma as you might want. Instead, we follow Xueming as he makes questionable decision after questionable decision. His motivations are murky, but this works to underscore the darkness of both the film and human nature. He deals with guilt and uncertainty in increasingly violent ways, making the sensitivity he shows Ma especially touching. Though she may be using him to fill certain needs, there’s no doubt there’s something that connects these two.
There’s a lack of linear cohesion to the film that is surprisingly irrelevant to the whole. That we move around in time doesn’t increase tension or even really cause confusion. It simply is, and it’s a curious choice. A scene or two is repeated. One particular scene is shown from multiple perspectives, but the choice to work it into the film in two different spots is unnecessary. It would have worked as well – perhaps better – if we saw both perspectives at the same time.
There isn’t much going on in this film. The ethical dilemmas are overlooked in favor of a paint by numbers mystery. However, as a slice of Xueming and Ma’s lives, it’s worth watching to see how they react to the events unfolding around them.
As a character drama, it’s intriguing. As a languidly paced mystery, Are You Lonesome Tonight is a little underwhelming.