Is there a light that never goes out?
A Light Never Goes Out (Hong Kong, 2022)
- Anastasia Tsang, director
- Starring: Sylvia Chang, Simon Yam, Henick Chou, Cecilia Choi
I have a friend who doesn't watch many movies and, she says, does most of her movie viewing on planes rather than in a cinema; so she's not too familiar with movie trailers. Even so, she shocked me when, on a rare cinema outing with me, she mistook the trailer for A Light Never Goes Out we viewed before the film we had gone to see for a public service announcement!
In retrospect, I can see where she was coming from -- as it (and Anastasia Tsang's actual film) contains lines and messages like "I couldn't keep the neon lights glowing. But you must keep the home going" and "Glory days lost, lights gone out [but] the neon within us still glows". Lines and messages that can be interpreted by local audience members of A Light Never Goes Out as telling Hong Kongers to ga yau (add oil), persist and not give up the fight (for Hong Kong); this even while the film in question ostensibly and/or essentially is a nostalgia-filled drama centering on a grieving widow determined to cling on to her memories of her beloved husband and ensure that his life's work lives on.
Bill (who comes in the form of Simon Yam) was a neon sign maker by trade and vocation. He also was the husband of Heung (portrayed by Sylvia Chang, who won the Golden Horse Best Actress award for this performance). Recently widowed and very obviously not 100% psychologically reconciled to being so, Heung -- whose name is how the "Hong" in "Hong Kong" is pronounced in Cantonese -- sees Bill in her dreams and sometimes talks to him like he's still alive.
Visiting his studio one day, Heung sees signs of it still being use and jumps to the conclusion that Bill (or, at least, his ghost) has been working there in recent days; a line of thinking which gets her daughter, whose name Choi Hung actually means "rainbow" but gets translated in the English subtitles as Prism (and who is essayed by Cecilia Choi), somewhat understandably upset with her! (Prism, by the way, is planning to migrate to Australia. So yes, A Light Never Goes Out is one more contemporary Hong Kong film where migration themes feature.)
On a subsequent visit to the studio though, Heung discovers that her late husband had taken on an apprentice -- and that Leo (played by Henick Chou) it was who had been trying to keep the business going. Encouraged by Leo, Heung decides to work to not only keep the neon signs that Bill made working and hanging but also to make one more neon sign that she's convinced that the master craftsman had sought to do prior to his premature demise.
If A Light Never Goes Out were made just a few years ago, its story might have been deemed interesting but not super topical. But Hong Kong's neon signs are currently in the news because so many of them have been taken down upon the orders of the authorities in recent years and a realization has set in that something which has come to (latterly) be seen as part of Hong Kong's cultural heritage as well as a distinctive part of the local landscape is in danger of disappearing. A measure of how drastic this disappearance has been: an article in The Guardian contains the estimate that Hong Kong was home to some 120,000 neon signs in 2011 but just around 400 in 2022!
As Heung laments in A Light Never Goes Out: "That's decades of history. They take it down without notice." And while she's referring to the neon signs, many local members of the film's audience will undoubtedly extrapolate it to mean that it's Hong Kong's history that is being destroyed or changed; and this, of course, gives this drama extra resonance along with weight and meaning. Which brings us back to the friend I wrote about in the first paragraph of this film review, and why and how she mistook the trailer for Anastasia Tsang's movie for something else, and more!
Something that there's no doubt of though is how beautiful the neon lights can be, and how beautifully they were showcased by this film's cinematographer, Leung Ming-kai. A Light Never Goes Out is one of those cinematic works that, if it did not visually impress, would have weakened the movie's message. And the fact that this (re)viewer came away from this offering hoping that the lights will never go out on Hong Kong's neon lights, and Hong Kong itself, is pretty telling of what I think of it.
My rating for this film: 7.5