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Review: Always Be with You (2017)

Always Be with You

常在你左右

Hong Kong/China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 94 mins.

Director: Qiu Litao 邱礼涛 [Herman Yau].

Rating: 5/10.

An okay tribute to low-budget horror-comedy series Troublesome Night  on its 20th anniversary.

STORY

Hong Kong, the present day. One evening, taxi driver David (Zhang Zhilin), driving drunk after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, crashes his car into one driven by Liang Deqian (Lin Dexin). At the same time the body of Xiaohong (Yu Qiao), who’s jumped from the building above after being dumped by her boyfriend, lands on top of the car of Liang Deqian, who dies. In another car – with police detective Sam Lee (Gu Tianle), his detective wife Si (She Shiman) and his aunt (Luo Lan) – that swerved to avoid Liang Deqian’s, Si is knocked unconscious and taken to hospital. From a passing car, Jingwen (Li Jingyi), the niece of a second-hand shop owner and his wife (Lin Xue, Yuan Qiongdan), takes a picture of the accident. When Xiaohong’s body is cremated, employee Zhou Zhiqiang (Lin Jiadong) steals her jewellery; he needs to sell it quickly as he’s being harrassed by a moneylender (Lu Huiguang), but his buyer is killed by a falling balcony. Immediately afterwards, Zhou Zhiqiang is knocked down by a lorry and loses the jewellery. Later, after being unconscious for three weeks, Si wakes up in the hospital. Meanwhile, hospital nurse Xie Yuxin (Cai Zhuoyan) buys a B&B business in the country to honour the dream of her late fiance Liang Deqian. On opening day a couple of lovers take a room but the woman kills the man and then herself. Xie Yuxin discovers the building has a history of suicide; when the news gets out, business plummets. David arrives and tries to make amends for causing her fiance’s death by offering to buy the hotel; Xie Yuxin refuses but lets him take a room for an extended period. On the run from the moneylenders, Zhou Zhiqiang arrives and gasses himself in a room. His body then disappears, but one day his hand is found in a nearby lake. Si investigates, along with her husband. Meanwhile, they start to experience strange goings-on at home, involving a vinyl record (of the second-hand shop owner’s niece) that won’t go away.

REVIEW

Prolific Hong Kong journeyman Qiu Litao 邱礼涛 [Herman Yau] celebrates the spirit of a series he helped to found in Always Be with You 常在你左右, a collection of weird, ghostly tales to mark the 20th anniversary of the low-budget Troublesome Night 阴阳路 films (see poster of first in series, left). Averaging between two and five releases a year, the 19-film series, launched by writer-producer Nan Yan 南燕 [Nam Yin], ran for seven years (1997-2003). Qiu, who worked on the first six films, hasn’t lost his liking for generic quickies, even though his movies are now technically well-honed, and Always is a fitting tribute to a series that was never especially scarey or funny – and not even well written or acted – but had a kind of homely feel in the way it looked back to a style of Hong Kong film-making that was already becoming history.

The original series varied between overlapping stories and single ones. In Always Qiu goes for the former option, opening with a car crash that involves multiple characters and then following them as they’re dogged by bad luck, hauntings, suicides and so on. Qiu’s script veers this way and that in tone and structure, and basically gives up on the overlapping structure as he concentrates on a single story during the final 15 minutes. This gives the stage to some heavyweight names (Gu Tianle 古天乐 [Louis Koo] as a cop, Lin Xue 林雪 [Lam Suet] as a junkstore owner, TV actresses She Shiman 佘诗曼 and Yuan Qiongdan 苑琼丹 as their wives) and manages to finish the film with some Big Twists, even though the story about a haunted vinyl record is pretty silly and its most striking sequence (featuring She alone) turns out to be a dream. But hey!

Until then, the dramatic burden has mostly been carried by actress-singer Cai Zhuoyan 蔡卓妍 [Charlene Choi] as the owner of an unlucky B&B business in the countryside and Lin Jiadong 林家栋 [Gordon Lam] as an indebted crematorium worker on the run from moneylenders. Cai, a Qiu favourite of late (Sara 雏妓, 2015; 77 Heartbreaks 原谅他77次, 2017), manages here to hit the right tone of black comedy (“Why does everyone come to my hotel to commit suicide?” she wails) while the ever-reliable Lin adds some dramatic grit for variation. Of the other leads, actor-singer Zhang Zhilin 张智霖 [Julian Cheung] is colourless as the taxi driver who caused the initial car crash.

Cleanly shot by Qiu’s regular DPs, Chen Guanghong 陈广鸿 [Joe Chan] and Ni Wenxian 倪文贤, the whole movie looks good and is brought in to a tight 94 minutes by veteran editor Zhong Weizhao 钟炜钊 [Azrael Chung]. But there’s almost no shocks and precious little suspense; it’s the familiar faces that keep the whole thing moving. Though several actors from the series, like Gu and Luo, have lent their weight to this tribute, actor Lei Yuyang 雷宇扬, whose career owned a lot to it, is notable by his absence.

For the record, there’s no direct reference to the Troublesome Night series anywhere in the film, though Always‘ Chinese title directly evokes the handle of Troublesome Night 2 阴阳路之我在你左右 (1997). In the Mainland Always scared up RMB47 million, a reasonable amount considering its origins and modest scale.

CREDITS

Presented by Sil-Metropole Organisation (HK), Sublime Pictures (CN), Universe Matrix Century Films Distribution (Beijing) (CN), Er Dong Pictures (CN), China 3D Digital Entertainment (HK), Sun Entertainment Culture (HK), Fei Fan Entertainment Production (CN), Dreams Salon Entertainment Culture (HK), Jetsen Culture Industry Group (CN), Guangzhou Lee Cultural Diffusion (CN), Star River International Entertainment (CN), Khorgos Nok Media (CN). Produced by Sil-Metropole Organisation (HK).

Script: Qiu Litao [Herman Yau]. Co-script (for Lin Zhiqiang’s story): Zhen Bairong, Wen Peiqing, He Yonghang. Photography: Chen Guanghong [Joe Chan], Ni Wenxian. Editing: Zhong Weizhao [Azrael Chung]. Music: Mai Zhenhong [Brother Hung]. Art direction: Yu Xinghua. Styling: Bai Xipo. Sound: Xie Yaoji, Ye Zhaoji. Martial arts: Deng Ruihua. Car stunts: Wu Haitang. Visual effects: Huang Hongda, Yu Tianlong (vfxNova Digital).

Cast: Gu Tianle [Louis Koo] (Sam Lee), Zhang Zhilin [Julian Cheung] (David), Lin Jiadong [Gordon Lam] (Zhou Zhiqiang), Cai Zhuoyan [Charlene Choi] (Xie Yuxin), She Shiman (Si, Sam Lee’s wife), Lin Dexin (Liang Deqian/Patrick), Li Jingyi (Jingwen/Jamie), Lin Xue [Lam Suet] (second-hand shop owner), Luo Lan (Long, Sam Lee’s aunt), Yuan Qiongdan (second-hand shop owner’s wife), Lu Huiguang [Ken Lo] (Feng, moneylender), Jiang Meiyi (Jiang, hospital doctor), Zhang Daming (Sam, security guard), Guan Baohui [Emily Kwan] (plastic surgeon), Li Jiarong [Fire Lee], Xu Zhiyong (ghosthunters), Yu Qiao (Xiaohong), Yang Liuqing (Wen), Yang Shangbin (Lin Pei), Huang Wenhui (Xiaohong’s mother), He Huachao (Chao, police officer), Li Huiling (Nancy), Zhou Zhijun (Peter), Chen Peisi (Miss Chen), Li Kaixian, Chen Weixiong (mysterious men at end), Yang Siyong (female student).

Release: Hong Kong, 26 Oct 2017; China, 27 Oct 2017.