What do women want?
Turns out that sometimes it’s a melodramatic “Guilty Pleasure” from China. Who knew?!?
But Always is an epic story of star-crossed Beijing lovers played by lead actress Yuanyuan Gao (as “Anran”) and lead actor Nicholas Tse (as “Yongyuan”).
Gorgeous! Heart-breaking!! Set to a soundtrack showcasing a thousand and one strings!!!
Kudos to writer/director Snow Zou for breathing new life into the classic Hollywood Weepie genre from the Golden Years–and yes, I do mean that as a complement. (JLH: 4/5).
Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.
But Always is Snow Zou’s old-school Hollywood romance movie from China. It’s gorgeous and weepy, with charismatic, beautiful stars and a score that transports you into a romantic mode. For women, more so than men, the film will hit that soft spot of star-crossed love and tragic destiny. Even though there were a couple of laughable moments, I loved But Always.
Told from the point of view of “Anran,” (Yuanyuan Gao) the film opens with the tragic events surrounding 9/11. The English subtitles read: New York City – 2001, and immediately flash back to earthquake stricken Bejing – 1976. We meet young Anran, narrating her story as a young girl living in the streets of Beijing with families too terrified of aftershocks to reenter their homes. As a five-year-old, Anran lives in her parents’ makeshift shack on the street, running around and having a great time until her mother has to leave. Her mother, a doctor needing to leave with her emergency team, gives Anran a stern look and advises her to take care of her father and be a good girl while she’s gone. Although it’s never really explained, the mother dies in an accident, leaving Anran with only her father.
Not wanting her to be known as a motherless child or under the Chinese cloud of bad luck, Anran’s father moves her to another school far away. Being attractive, well dressed, and cared for doesn’t make her feel any less lonely. Anran walks very pert and alert, but is always by herself until a little boy “Zhao” (Nicholas Tse) starts following her. At first she tries to try to ignore him, but slowly draws comfort from the fact she’s got a companion who can relate to her. Zhao, living with his grandmother, lost both his parents in the earthquake. The little, adorable kids bond and grow into the edge of adolescence. For years they’re good friends, depending on each other, walking together, and waiting at the bus stop together, until one day when Zhao abruptly disappears. His uncle arrives from Quanzho when the grandmother dies and takes him away before he can say goodbye to Anran. Zhao bangs on the bus window to catch her attention, but she is looking on the street for him, not knowing where he went.
Eight or so years pass until they’re young adults, with Zhao coming back to work in the marketplace for his uncle. One day, Anran comes by to shop and Zhao can tell it’s her by the rhythm of her walk. Because he’s in the presence of a certain footstep and he knows it’s Anran, he follows her to find out where she goes to school. Zhao begins lurking around until she finally spots him. During the years, Anran has done very well in school, particularly in her English lessons since her father insists that the mother’s dream was for Anran to attend school in the United States. So she passes her exams and is accepted at Columbia right around the time her relationship with Zhao heats up. Anran doesn’t want to leave him, they make love, and Zhao promises to meet her at the bus stop so she can take him to meet her father. Of course, he doesn’t show up at the bus stop and his friend tells Anran that Zhao doesn’t want her anymore, doesn’t love her anymore, and has another girlfriend. In heartbreak and despair, she leaves for New York not knowing the truth about Zhao, who has really been arrested and sent to prison for three years.
Another set of years pass, jumping ahead to New York City. When Anran first arrived, she was pregnant with Zhao’s baby and suffered a miscarriage. Soon after, she met an artist who goes on to become her lover and her protector. She goes through the motions of making it in medical school, but is emotionally destroyed and bereaved by Zhao’s desertion of her.
Meanwhile, after Zhao is released from prison, he becomes a successful clothing manufacturer with his large company earning millions of dollars. He and his coworkers take a trip to New York for a business deal and Zhao goes in search of Anran. When he finds her, she turns away from him. But when he spots a painting of her, Zhao locates the artists, and tries to find out how to track Anran down. When he does, she tries to rebuff him again but ends up giving in. There’s a big, wonderful climatic love scene where they finally reunite after all these years and look like they’re actually going to happy, but something happens to the artist that snaps Anran back to reality. The choice she makes between her two men and the resulting consequences lead into the third act of the film, as Anran deals with her past life in Beijing and her current life in America.
Gao and Tse are absolutely gorgeous as Anran and Zhao. As a kid, Zhao looks like a frog and turns into an incredibly charismatic Prince Charming who is kind, tender, handsome, and successful. He’s a dream come true; your classic poor boy with the prince inside.
Other than being a great, romantic, weepy film with great leads, there are little missteps except for a few melodramatic moments. It swept along on gorgeous visuals with fast pacing. I liked the idea that they’re putting 9/11 in context that every country has its trauma. In the case of Anran’s mother and Zhao’s parents, who were directly affected by the cataclysmic earthquake in Beijing in ’76, But Always reminds Americans that al-Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center and it wasn’t just Americans who died. There were people from all over the world who were impacted by this event and it’s important for us to remember that.
The film held my attention and made me really care about these two people. I knew that the star-crossed lovers weren’t headed towards a happy ending, but I still enjoyed going on this tragic journey with Anran.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (9/15/14)
Top Photo: Anran and Yongyuan find a moment of stolen happiness in her shabby Brooklyn apartment.
Bottom Photo: Just before she leaves for New York, Anran must tend to Yongyuan’s wounded forehead after thugs assault him in Beijing. OMG: What a handsome guy! “I’m melting!! I’m melting!!!” TeeHeeHee
Photo Credits: China Lion
Q: Does But Always pass the Bechdel Test?
Drama is focused on Anran’s love for Yongyuan, and even in the rare occasions when she does speak with another woman (e.g., when her boss tells Anran that she must agree to continue taking this handsome Chinese businessman on tours around NYC or lose her job as a guide), they are always talking about him.