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Are You Lonesome Tonight? can never escape the feeling that it is a student film stretched to feature length, clumping together scenes and ideas without a compelling overall arc.

I like the premise of Chinese neo-noir Are You Lonesome Tonight? in which an airco technicien hits a man with his car and then has to muster the courage to tell the victim's wife he's the one who killed her husband. Which makes it all the more disappointing that debut director Wen Shipei wrings so little genuine drama or emotion out of it.

The picture does hold your attention in its first half, despite the unnecessary gimmick of a back-forth narrative and some curious detours, like a scene where the protagonist stumbles upon a streetfight and willfully lets himself be beaten up.

But it's in the second half of Are Your Lonesome Tonight? that the movie truly starts falling apart, as the central premise is abandoned almost completely in favour of a crime subplot that lacks originality and purpose in equal parts.

Here the film shows it's true nature: a debut film from a director weaned on genre tropes that lacks the maturity, urgency and invention needed to pull off the dramatic beats.

For a student film that would be fine. For a movie that somehow ended up in competition slots in many festivals, including Cannes, it's puzzling.

release: 2021

director: Wen Shipei

starring: Eddie Peng, Sylvia Chang, Janhui Wang, Yu Zhang


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