TIFF 2021 | Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Wen Shipei, China)

By Shelly Kraicer

Increasingly strict censorship limits the kind of films Chinese directors can make and still get approved for either domestic screenings or export. But film noir remains a viable option for filmmakers to play with violence and ambiguity, within limits. Are You Lonesome Tonight? is first-time director Wen Shipei’s entry into a tough genre, and he’s delivered a “film rouge,” I suppose: most scenes, shot in sweltering, hot and humid Guangzhou are bathed in intense red light, tinted green and yellow. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t manage to muster much more heat than that. It’s conceived as a tricky murder mystery in which neither Eddie Peng’s repairman, nor Sylvia Chang’s bereaved widow, nor a bullet-riddled corpse are what they initially seem to be. I suppose the film was conceived as (and invited to Cannes, and then TIFF) a star vehicle for the sublime Taiwanese veteran director/actress/producer Sylvia Chang and Taiwanese hunk-of-the-moment Eddie Peng. Sad to say, their offbeat, wary, sporadically lively relationship is defeated by their lack of chemistry, and the film unaccountably sequesters Chang, its greatest asset, offscreen for much of the middle section. Untranslated closing intertitles assure audiences that the cops have everything under control, somewhat breaking the noir spirit of the thing.

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