Hong Kong/China, 2016, colour, 2.35:1, 84 mins.
Director: Zhou Sun 周隼 [Chris Chow].
Generic psychothriller is solid enough fare but weakened by an excess of plot.
Hong Kong, the present day. Businessman Yuan Yiming (Chen Guantai), his wife Angie (Gu Meihua) and elder daughter Yuan Ningjing (Song Jia) are informed by the police that their younger daughter Yuan Ningying has been found alive in a basement in Los Angeles after being kidnapped near the end of their two-year stay there a decade ago. Three men have been arrested. Now 20, Yuan Ningying arrives home, but she is blank-faced and doesn’t seem to recognise anyone. The atmosphere at home is also tense: Angie is on anti-depressants and Yuan Ningjing still blames herself for leaving her younger sister alone the day she was kidnapped and for her jealousy at the time over the attention she got from their mother. An employee of the HD Counselling Centre, she takes on the job herself of caring for Yuan Ningying. Taking a personal interest in the case, police inspector Deng (Lin Jiadong) also questions Yuan Ningying about the kidnapping but she freaks out. Meanwhile, a young hoodie (Hu Ge) is stalking both Yuan Ningjing and the area; when he breaks into the Yuan family’s house one night, Yuan Ningying senses his presence. At work, Yuan Yiming is having an affaire with his secretary and relations with his elder brother, Yuan Yicong (Bai Biao), to whom he’s given a job as vice-president, are cool. Two months later Yuan Ningying, now more communicative, visits the family’s former butler, Cai (Ye Jin), and accuses him of being the kidnappers’ go-between; in her anger, she seriously wounds him. Later she kills the family’s maid, Xiaohe (Lv Xicai), setting off a chain of revelations and further deaths.
For his second outing as a director, Nanjing-born, Hong Kong-raised, US-educated scriptwriter Zhou Sun 周隼 [Chris Chow] comes up with the straight genre goods in Cherry Returns 那年夏天你去了哪里, a psychothriller with a traumatised kidnap victim, the ever-present scent of revenge, and lots of bodies and family skeletons. Much less earnest and film-schooly than his supernatural drama Strawberry Cliff 赎命 (2011) – modishly shot in English and largely kept afloat by the performance of Chen Yixun 陈奕迅 [Eason Chan] – Cherry is all in Chinese, uses dialogue in a less expository way, and has solid (if not great) performances down the line.
Zhou has contributed to a wide range of screenplays, from the quality martial-arts vehicle Fearless 霍元甲 (2006) through the so-so manga adaptation Blood: The Last Vampire 血战新世纪 (2009, his only solo credit) to the stinker My Lucky Star 非常幸运 (2013). The main fault of his own screenplay for Cherry is an excess of plot: the first 50 minutes have enough to fuel an average horror, but by that point the film still has a way to go. It’s like watching Cherry Returns and Cherry Returns 2 edited together into a single movie. As well as some characters (the mother, the cop) and some subplots (the father’s affaire, the uncle’s background) remaining underdrawn, there’s a bumpiness in the narrative rhythm that comes entirely from trying to squeeze too much into 84 minutes.
Though it’s great to see Hong Kong veterans like Chen Guantai 陈观泰 and Gu Meihua 顾美华 [Josephine Koo] in leading roles as the father and mother, it’s frustrating they don’t get more screentime, especially Chen, who brings some mature heft to his role as the conflicted father. Lin Jiadong 林家栋 [Gordon Lam] seems cast adrift throughout, as a police inspector who’s set up for some romantic involvement that never gets off the blocks. The guts of the movie are the playing by China’s Song Jia 宋佳 (Falling Flowers 萧红, 2012), 36, who brings her usual dignified reserve to the role of the conflicted elder sister and, especially, by Hong Kong’s Yan Zhuoling 颜卓灵, 23, whose fresh performance as a wannabe breakdancer in The Way We Dance 狂舞派 (2013) seems a million miles from her glacial revenge machine here. Chemistry between the two actresses is good.
The film’s technical finish is up-to-scratch for a psychothriller, from the clean-cut widescreen photography by Hong Kong d.p. Wang Jincheng 王金成 (Revenge: A Love Story 复仇者之死, 2010; 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy 3D肉蒲团之极乐宝鉴, 2011) to the nursery-rhyme eeriness in the score of Japan’s Yamamoto Yuki 山本友树 (Strawberry Cliff). The Chinese title means “Where Did You Go That Summer.” In the Mainland the film grossed RMB35 million over the end-of-year period, a modest amount but solid enough for a generic horror with no major stars.
Presented by Sil-Metropole Organisation (HK), Edko Films (HK), Chinese Entertainment Tianjin (CN), Shanghai Film Group (CN), Meridian Entertainment (CN), Edko (Beijing) Films (CN). Produced by Movie Addict Productions (HK).
Script: Zhou Sun [Chris Chow]. Original story: Xiao Zhiwei, Zhou Sun [Chris Chow]. Photography: Wang Jincheng (Hong Kong), Zhou Sun [Chris Chow] (US). Editing: Chen Zhongming. Music: Yamamoto Yuki. Art direction: Xu Ming (Hong Kong), Zachary Bangma (US). Costume design: Zhang Haoting. Sound: He Si. Action: Huang Weiliang. Visual effects: Weng Guoxian.
Cast: Song Jia (Yuan Ningjing), Lin Jiadong [Gordon Lam] (Deng, police inspector), Yan Zhuoling (Yuan Ningying/Cherry), Hu Ge (Yuan Ju), Chen Guantai (Yuan Yiming), Gu Meihua [Josephine Koo] (Angie Yuan), Bai Biao (Yuan Yicong, Yuan Yiming’s elder brother), Ye Jin (Cai, family butler), Lv Xicai (Xiaohe, family maid), He Peixian (Lin Zaisi/Joyce), Yan Yi’en (Guang), Chen Peiyan (young Yuan Ningying), Deng Yueping (young Yuan Ningjing), Huang Keying (Yingying), Huang Si’en (police chief), Mai Zijie (lawyer), Tan Weiqiang (hitman).
Release: Hong Kong, 12 Jan 2017; China, 30 Dec 2016.