Fate is a funny thing. But before getting into that, I have a confession to make…
Years ago, I was driving on a rural road and swerved to avoid hitting a rabbit. I lost control of my car, taking out 20 feet of fence and a couple of mailboxes. Rather than man-up and see if the owner was home, I fired the engine back up and took off, praying nobody saw me. For the next week, I was terrified to drive my car, just in case someone did get my plate number and called the cops.
Aside from a damaged grill and forcing myself to take a bus to work, the personal consequences of my actions were minimal. Now older, more responsible and less self-absorbed, I still feel terrible about what I did (but hey...at least the bunny lived).
So I know from experience that a single insignificant animal can have a profound impact on a person’s life. For Wang Xue-ming (Eddie Peng), the consequences are devastating. He’s in prison as When Are You Lonesome Tonight? opens, and through a narrative that continuously flashes back and forward, it’s revealed why. In 1997, Wang is an air-conditioner repairman. One night while driving, he approaches a cow blocking the road. Since it refuses to move, Wang takes an alternate route and runs a man over.
Rather than go to the police, he rolls the body off the road and leaves. Not only is he racked with guilt, he’s certain the police will eventually find him. Wang even considers turning himself in. Instead, he seeks out the man’s widow, Liang Ma (Sylvia Chang), and befriends her without initially confessing what he’s done. It turns out Liang’s husband was into some shady dealings, having absconded with a huge amount of cash owed to his debtors. When thugs come to collect, Wang intervenes to protect her.
But despite a few critical boasts on the DVD cover, this relationship never turns romantic or sexual. Based on what we’re shown, I get the impression Wang sees Liang as more of a parental figure…perhaps taking the place of a mother he never had, and that he needs her guidance more than her forgiveness (though he still seeks atonement through his search for the missing money).
Whatever the case, Are You Lonesome Tonight? is moody and stylish. Part thriller, part character drama, its compelling story is presented more through expression than exposition, with wonderfully understated performances by Peng and Chang as two people whose fates were decided by a stubborn cow. This film is presented in Chinese with English subtitles.
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