Two things are to be taken from Wen Shipei’s Are You Lonesome Tonight? One, following an unexciting role in Ann Hui’s Love After Love, there may be, after all, some potential for Taiwanese blockbuster superstar Eddie Peng as an arthouse actor, here delivering a phlegmatic performance, oddly, but perhaps not accidentally reminiscent of Chang Chen, as a guilt-ridden repairman trying to approach the wife (played by none other than Sylvia Chang) of a man he seemingly runs over.
Two, which we already knew, there’s never going to be a film making reference to the Elvis Presley song that could ever come close to the sensibility of Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day. Wen’s neo-noir pays homage to Yang’s film by playing the song in copycat, pink-tinted shots that recreate the iconic band scenes yet fails to understand its significance in context as a commentary on Western influence on the youth culture of 50s and 60s’ Taiwan. Are You Lonesome Tonight? has some merit in mixing the rain and torpid heat of its mainland Chinese summers so as to induce a slow, almost inert rhythm that calls to mind other New Taiwanese Wave directors, but ultimately gives the feeling of a clutter of references and emulations that seek out only empty aesthetic value.
Despite being surprisingly articulate for a debut in its depiction of mnemonic processes that revisit in disjunct and fragmented flashbacks a crime that may or may not have been committed, Are You Lonesome Tonight? sabotages itself when, around halfway, it decides to abruptly turn into a gunplay thriller about police conspiracies that’s hard to distinguish from any other contemporary Chinese super-production.