“Are You Lonesome Tonight” is crime noir with a high degree of artistic merit. This very simple story of a man who believes he’s killed someone in a hit-and-run accident is well-executed, sophisticated, and (pardon the pun), drop dead gorgeous. This is a strong, self-assured debut feature film from director Shipei Wen.
The lives of three strangers converge after a freak accident on a dark summer night, when air conditioning repairman Wang Xueming (Eddie Peng) runs over and kills a pedestrian. Well, at least Wang thinks he’s killed someone. Since the road is deserted and nobody has witnessed the crime, and in the interest of self-preservation, he hides the body and drives off. It doesn’t take long before the guilt of what he’s done starts to surface, and Wang orchestrates a “chance” meeting with the man’s widow (Sylvia Chang), and things get more complicated. Her husband’s past wasn’t exactly the most legitimate, and Wang finds himself in an even more precarious position.
While this is a film with shootouts and suspense, Wen employs slow, pensive storytelling as his lead character seeks redemption. Wang grapples internally with the massive shame from what he’s done, longing to be punished as the guilt consumes his soul. He walks aimlessly around the city, just waiting (and wanting desperately) to be caught by the police so he can pay for his sins. In due course, Wang’s path crosses with some very bad people as he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Wen is a skilled director with a naturally gifted eye. This film is visually impressive, with a gritty yet elegant flair. He makes some typical first-time director mistakes, like an overuse of mirrors, too-artsy clichéd shots, and a glut of heavy-handed symbolism, but “Are You Lonesome Tonight” is a striking, impressive debut from an up-and-coming talent.
This film was screened for review at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
By: Louisa Moore