Always Be With You (Seung joi nei jor yau)
Hong Kong (2017) Dir. Herman Yau
Death, contrary to popular belief, isn’t always the final word – if it was, there wouldn’t be any horror films or tales of the supernatural to spook us out with. So, keep on haunting you spirits, like the one in this Hong Kong tale…
Taxi driver David (Julian Cheung) learns he has terminal cancer and hits the bottle on his drive home. Consequently, he crashes into and kills property owner Patrick (Alex Lam). At the same time, jilted woman Sui-hung (Ava Yu) leaps to her death landing on Patrick’s car, as police officer Sam (Louis Koo) swerves to avoid the accident, saving himself, cop wife Si (Charmaine Sheh) and his exorcist aunt (Law Lan).
At Sui-hung’s funeral, crematorium worker Chi-keung (Gordon Lam) steals Sui-hung’s gold bracelets to pay of his debts but they want money instead. Chi-keung’s attempts to sell the bracelets are thwarted by bizarre incidents. Meanwhile, Patrick’s fiancée Yu-xin (Charlene Choi) fulfils his dream of opening a small hotel, unaware the previous owner committed suicide there, her spirit remaining to torment the guests.
Likely to be known by modern audiences for his crime/action thrillers, Herman Yau does have form in the horror genre, notably the Troublesome Night anthology series, of which he directed the first six. Always Be With You is the 20th (!) film in the series, created to mark the 20th anniversary of the first film. Yau’s return to horror doesn’t mean his penchant for crime thrillers is totally abandoned, making this more of a hybrid affair.
Furthermore, there is a strong comedic element present too, although I’m not entirely sure this was intentional, unless Yau was being deliberately evasive in being responsible for how the audience was supposed to perceive. The light rom-com feel between Sam and Si notwithstanding, a few hokey moments threaten to derail the chills engendered by the gore and supernatural mystery.
Whilst not strictly an anthology, there are separate threads running which do eventually converge after some tenuous overlap, with clues dotted all over the place for the final act twist. Not everything is presented chronologically, so you’ll either spot the twist and can give yourself a star for being so observant, or completely miss it because you were following the story, not the minutiae.
Back to the story, and it proves deftly sinuous in the way seemingly disparate characters end up together, the opening car accident proving to be fatefully fortuitous. Initially, the focus shifts to two people not involved – Chi-keung and Yu-xin, but they soon become integral to the plot whether they wanted to or not.
Chi-keung, drowning in debt, can’t seem to sell the stolen bracelets. Every time he tries, something happens, like his buyer being crushed by a collapsing building, or Chi-keung himself being hit but a runaway lorry. If that wasn’t enough, the spirit of Sui-hung is looking on and she is not very happy, inserting herself into Chi-keung’s life and driving him out of his mind.
Elsewhere, Yu-xin opens her hotel with Patrick’s life insurance money, receiving her first guests almost immediately, an adulterous couple. Unfortunately, the woman commits a murder-suicide to spite her lover’s wife; news gets out and Yu-xin faces bad press for her new venture and after more suicides and reports of being haunted, the hotel has a reputation for being cursed.
Quite why Yu-xin keeps putting people in the same room despite knowing this is one of the plot niggles we are expected to ignore. Eventually, Yu-xin gets some support from an unlikely source, followed by a shifty and familiar guest running away from his troubles and planning to end it all. Can Yu-xin handle any more bad press with another suicide in her hotel? Not if her new help has anything to do with it.
Oh, but there is more, including the haunted album from a dead wannabe teen idol (and apparently in Hong Kong that fanbase is made up of middle-aged men like in Japan), and the mystery of how Sam can see ghosts. It is remarkable how Yau crams all of this into 97 minutes, brings all the threads together, and provides a definitive conclusion. It may not be one you’ll like, but at least it has one.
Having not seen any Troublesome Night films, this offering thankfully works just as well as standalone film for the uninitiated like myself. I don’t know of any overt references for existing fans, but it does seem like Yau was taking the anniversary aspect to heart in recapturing the spirit (pardon the pun) of 90’s Hong Kong horror. For example, Law Lan was in 16 of the original series so her presence here is akin to fan service for the faithful.
She is not the only well know face in the cast either as Yau has tempted a whole slew of Hong Kong favourites in supporting or cameo roles, such as Lam Suet, Kingdom Yuen, and Ken Lo, to bolster the big names up front. Louis Koo seems rather unchallenged by his lighter role, but bounces of Charmaine Sheh, whilst Gordon Lam is compelling as the corrupt Chi-keung. Charlene Choi has sadly been tasked with recreating the whiney teen roles she had left behind but is adorable as ever so gets a pass from me.
Running at a consistent pace for the duration ensures every single second is relevant, as found in Yau’s tight direction yet he leaves enough room to let the non-horror scenes breath to allow the grim content to have greater effect. There is one scene which is both gory yet so ridiculous it is hard to tell if the line between black humour and pastiche has been crossed, otherwise the darker aspects are adeptly handled.
Always Be With You is a title with a poignant meaning but takes a convoluted but very enjoyable path to this reveal, as if Yau didn’t have the confidence to make a straight-up supernatural rom-com. One the plus side there is something for everyone here.