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Gordon Lam (Actor) | Julian Cheung (Actor) | Louis Koo (Actor) | Charmaine Sheh (Actor)
This professional review refers to Always Be With You (2017) (Blu-ray) (Hong Kong Version)
Western film fans who complain about never-ending franchises and eternal sequels might take a moment to consider the Troublesome Night series, which had an incredible 19 entries between 1997 and 2003. Initially starting off with the horror anthology format, the series later shifted to single narrative features, and despite declining budgets and box office returns, somehow managed to still make it into Hong Kong cinemas. Produced specially to mark the 20th anniversary of the series is its 20th instalment, Always Be With You, directed by Herman Yau, who also helmed its first six entries, and which also sees the return of frequent star Louis Koo and producer Nam Yim – naturally, Helena Law, who appeared in almost every Troublesome Night, as well as many other spooky films of the period, is also back, as usual playing a creepy old Hong Kong auntie who can see the dead.
The film marks a return to the anthology format, weaving together a collection of supernatural tales, opening with a taxi driver called David (Julian Cheung, S Storm), drunk behind the wheel after learning that he is terminally ill, causing a traffic accident involving police officer Sam (Louis Koo, Paradox) and his wife Ah Si (Charmain Sheh, Line Walker), which results in the death of Patrick (Alex Lam, My Wife is a Superstar) – as if this weren't enough, at the same time Xiao Hung (Ava Liu, Undercover Duet), suicidal after breaking up with her boyfriend, throws herself off a nearby roof, landing in the middle of the crash. From here, the film branches off to also follow mortuary worker Zhi Qiang (Gordon Lam, The Brink), who steals gold bracelets from Xiao Hung's corpse to pay off his gambling debts, and Patrick's fiancée Yu Yin (Charlene Choi, 77 Heartbreaks), who decides to fulfil his dream of opening a holiday resort. Unsurprisingly, the two are soon beset by ghostly goings-on, while Sam and Ah Si run into trouble with a haunted record and David tries to make amends before he dies.
Being the 20th instalment of a franchise which hasn't seen an entry in a good 17 years, not to mention one which wasn't exactly bringing in audiences at the time of its demise, Always Be With You is clearly a film made for the already converted and the nostalgic, rather than mass audiences. While its appeal might be limited, the film should definitely please fans, with Herman Yau sticking to what made the Troublesome Night so popular and vaguely iconic, throwing in plenty of spooky action, along with some odd comedy and moments of over the top melodrama. Though it's fair to say that the film isn’t exactly frightening, most of its scares being old fashioned and its twists predictable, as with others in the series it benefits from a very morbid, at times surprisingly sombre atmosphere, its message being that our mistakes not only affect us, but the people around us, taken here to ghoulish extremes. With Chinese language supernatural films being incredibly rare due to the censors, it's refreshing and pleasing to see a film like this that's pitched squarely at the Hong Kong rather than the Mainland market, and the local colour and references to the genre films of the 1990s are very enjoyable.
It's also great to see a cast of big names and recognisable Hong Kong stars getting so gamely involved, giving the material a lift, and making Always Be With You seem like a far bigger budgeted production than it likely is. A special mention goes to Louis Koo, who got his first real big screen break from the series, and who here goes back to full-on late 1990s style acting, with lots of odd screens of fake crying comedy (for example, suddenly bursting into tears during a sinister moment, only to reveal that it's because he forgot to cook some rice, following this up moments later with more tears and the confession that he also forgot to buy any rice) – Charlene Choi also wins points for seeming to have regressed back at least a decade, acting like a stroppy teenager to amusing effect. The film is filled with appearances from series regulars and the ever-dependable likes of Lam Suet, and any Troublesome Night aficionados are guaranteed to get a kick from seeing Helena Law up to her old tricks. All of this helps to paper over the many cracks in the narrative, which is often unfocused and senseless in the series' usual way, and though Herman Yau does allow the pace to slacken in places, the film always entertains, whether it be through its ghosts or the efforts of its cast.
It's debatable whether or not this is enough to recommend Always Be With You to the uninitiated, or even to the average horror fan, as it's very much a loving throwback to a bygone era and franchise. Though it's not clear whether the film's title is a promise (or indeed a threat), more Troublesome Night entries would be welcome, if only to help keep the fading memories of the glory days of Hong Kong horror cinema alive.
by James Mudge - EasternKicks.com
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