Director: Herman Yau
Cast: Louis Koo, Julian Cheung, Charlene Choi, Charmaine Sheh, Lam Ka Tung, Law Lan, Lam Suet
Runtime: 1 hr 38 mins
Rating: NC16 (Violence and Disturbing Scenes)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 2 November 2017
Synopsis: David (Julian Cheung) was drunk and lost control of his car to the opposite lane. The off-duty police officer, Sam (Louis Koo) and his wife Ah Si (Charmaine Sheh), were able to avoid the collision and kept safe by switching their steering wheel immediately. David’s car smashed Patrick’s car on the opposite lane eventually and Patrick was killed. Ms Xiao Hung, after breaking up with her boyfriend, committed suicide by jumping off a building and hit exactly on top of Patrick’s car. The crematorium worker, Zhi Qiang (Gordon Lam), steals a pair of 24k gold bracelets from funerary objects for paying his debts. Patrick’s wife, Yu Xin (Charlene Choi), would like to fulfil her husband’s last wish in running the vacation house. However, a series of strange cases keeps on happening in the house. Jamie’s vinyl keeps appearing at Sam and Ah Si’s apartment even though they have thrown it away a few times. Those people who were involved in the car accident are tied to strange events.
The ‘Troublesome Night’ series has long been held up as an emblem of modern-day Hong Kong horror, though that should not be mistaken for a reflection of its quality. Indeed, few of the 19 films which bear the title were watchable, and those that were tended to be the earlier ones that starred a then young and cherubic-faced Louis Koo and directed by one of the territory’s most prolific directors Herman Yau. It was Yau and producer Nam Yin that started the series in the first place, before the latter milked the franchise thoroughly for what it was worth on the home video circuit. That bit of nostalgia is worthwhile keeping in mind if and when you intend to watch this latest in-name addition, which comes 20 years after the first film was released. In fact, though written and directed by Yau himself, ‘Always Be With You’ has only nostalgic value, for it is otherwise quite shockingly devoid of any other worth, be it artistic/ creative or entertainment.
Like all the other films in the series, this one consists of three loosely connected stories. The first revolves around Keung (Gordon Lam), a crematorium worker who robs a dead young woman Siu Hung (Ava Yu) of a pair of 24k gold bracelets in order to pay off his gambling debts. As you can imagine, things don’t go well for him – not only does he end up in a freak accident that causes him to break his left leg, he is also haunted by the spirit of the lady who had committed suicide. The second concerns a bereaved fiancé Yu Xin (Charlene Choi), whose soon-to-be husband Patrick dies just one week before their wedding date. To honour him, Yu Xin buys a three-storey apartment building they had intended to run as a seaside resort, but a high-profile double suicide case dooms the place on the first day of its opening. Feeling guilty for having caused the accident which claimed Patrick’s life, David (Julian Cheung) offers to stay at the resort and help her out where possible. Last but not least, there is Sam (Louis Koo) and Ah Si (Charmaine Sheh), a husband-and-wife pair of police detectives whose happy union is threatened by a secret which the former is keeping from the latter.
The glue that connects these disparate characters? A freak accident caused by a drink-driving David who was feeling indignant after being told that he is suffering from terminal lung cancer, coupled by the suicide of Siu Hung at the same spot at the same time. That same accident also binds an older couple played by Lam Suet and Kingdom Yuen, who happen to be passing by during that fateful moment. To be sure, not all of them are in their respective predicaments because they deserve it; rather, as series stalwart Law Lan intones at the start, people are sometimes confronted with problems with no good solutions and how we respond to these situations may inevitably result in pain and suffering for others. That is certainly an intriguing theme to explore, but one which is hardly done much justice no thanks to a meandering narrative that doesn’t quite know where it wants to go, what it wants to do with its characters, or for that matter what it wants to say in the first place.
Only the first half hour that sees Keung meeting with a series of unfortunate events has any discernible purpose, which leaves the rest of the hour-plus duration of the movie a pointless slog. What is the point of Yu Xin’s perpetual bad luck – from losing her fiancée, to spending her savings on a place that was haunted from the start, to attracting one depressive character after another looking to commit suicide within its rooms? What is the point of David’s re-appearance amidst Yu Xin’s string of miseries, other than to saw up the dead body of one such successful suicide taker and dump his parts into the sea? What is the point too of portraying the loving union between Sam and Ah Si? Or for that matter, their run-in with the spirit of a young budding singer Jamie, whose debut album Ah Si had accidentally picked up while shopping for second-hand records? Other than Keung’s morality tale (you shouldn’t borrow or steal from the dead, stupid!), there is hardly any takeaways from the other two story arcs, which also unfold without any sense of narrative momentum.
Even more frustrating is how the movie as a whole is consistently bereft of any actual scares. There is none of that gumption which Yau displayed earlier this year in his R-rated shlocky horror ‘The Death Curse’; instead, a fleeting image of Siu Hung dressed in traditional red wedding garb, an implied scene of David sawing a body and a brief glance of Jamie’s head spinning atop a turntable is the best that Yau can muster here. That dumbed-down horror sensibility is no doubt an unfortunate outcome of ensuring that his latest gets past Chinese censors (seeing as how it has already secured a release in China), but the consequence is utterly disappointing for his fans. Worse still, Yau’s attempts at wringing emotion out of Yu Xin or Sam’s respective predicaments end up in cringe-worthy melodrama that not even the respectable actors can execute with credibility.
As a movie therefore, ‘Always Be With You’ is sloppily written, poorly executed and ultimately shockingly inept. It is not only one of the year’s worst releases but also one of Yau’s worst in his entire filmography (keep in mind that Yau exited the ‘Troublesome Night’ series before it became horrible). If there is any raison d'être for its existence, it is only for the sake of nostalgia – you get Law Lan as the wise old lady dishing out words of advice for those who do not respect the spiritual/ supernatural, and for what it’s worth, the sight of Louis Koo as a ghostly apparition doing a slow wave to the audience. Yet nostalgia alone can only excuse its shortcomings so much, and even if you’re willing to endure it for old time’s sake, there is no way in heaven or hell that this movie will revive the franchise that was not dormant but dead.
(Unless you're feeling utterly nostalgic about the 'Troublesome Night' series, there's no reason to sit through this otherwise poor excuse of a horror movie that is bereft of scares, purpose or any sort of storytelling merit)
Review by Gabriel Chong