Tonight Nobody Goes Home (1996)
Directed by: Sylvia Chang
After being disappointed by Sylvia Chang's more recent output in the way that there was something great there that just wasn't able to flourish fully, it's been a treat to step back a few, finding creative highs of hers via the terrific Siao Yu (1995) and the year after in Tonight Nobody Goes Home. Produced in Taiwan, Mei Ah thought it'd be best to market it as a lightweight comedy. While some pratfalls and light situations arise, the film is more of a thorough examination of so called family bliss disrupted and how it affects the ones below you. At 2 hours, Sylvia has plenty of time to weave, working with the script co-penned with Lee Khan and it's a worthy trip to take with all its jumping around between characters, all experiencing some form of crushing defeat but got to rise to the challenge of dealing with the unavoidable next steps upwards.
Which is ironic because Lan Hi-Sung's (The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman) Chan wants his youth back. When not practicing dentistry, he frequents the local swimming lanes, keeping fit and seemingly utilizing his time well an elder man. But it doesn't equal freedom and the marriage bubble with Mrs. Chan (Gua Ah-Leh, also in The Wedding Banquet), bursts hard when his affair with a kindergarten teacher is revealed. With a family of adult children on the go towards marriage and running a club, the parental unit problems begin to run down the cracks...
As mentioned, Sylvia Chang takes her time and is quite welcome to do so. The frame is hectic and seems to be occupied by way too many characters in the family, creating a worry about focus in the process. But sitting down with her elder couple, this life episode focuses on them first, with the consequences between them affecting the remainder of the family tree. With the saying of loneliness as one rather than as two as a main theme running through, Chang treats her subjects with a distanced eye. A directorial style that makes sense coming from an actress of range. The film is interesting in its exploration though because as much as the threat of divorce is a wake-up call for Mrs. Chan, she staggers a bit in her strife towards living again. Taking refuge with lonely gigolo Longlong (Alex To), she acts both as a surrogate mother, is comforted but is also clinging on a bit too hard that speaks to the confused mind of the reborn grandmother.
Rene Liu is paired up with Jordan Chan and her Xiaoqi is the daughter who always looked upon her parents as being the pitch-perfect image of marriage. Her doubts enter of course when the break-up occurs, questioning whether marriage is even needed. Here's a girl that has the 2 hours to learn to accept recurring life challenges and flanking her is the good natured insurance salesman/movie extra Changgang, played with infections energy by Jordan Chan. Covering the more somber, darker nature to Winston Chao's Siming and wife Lei Lei (Phoebe Chang) financial and parenting troubles (they've basically permanently handed over their child Xiaoyun to the grandparents), the film continues to provide a refreshing realism that means light and dark can co-exist quite naturally here. Something Chang handles with a honed sense and nod to naturalism.
It's all also a tribute to the veteran acts on display from Lung Si-Hung and Gua Ah-Leh, both finding fitting, subtle definitions to their lost characters without ever slipping into undeserved melodrama. They're both amusing to watch in their attempts to be youthful but both are also very vulnerable. Ultimately quite well-tuned to self-realization that gives way to a fitting ending friday night rental-audiences won't like but those looking for slices of life in cinema will embrace. Supporting performances across the board remains fitting, with an extra special mention to Alex To as Longlong. It's a classic scenario To lives with as he has no parents, resides far from his homeland but finds a protective shoulder and acts like one as well. He's very assured and has terrific chemistry with Gua Ah-Leh.
Tonight Nobody Goes Home takes a wee bit of patience to decipher. Not that it's abstract or anything but Sylvia Chang doesn't reuse a template for even drama excursions such as this. Continuously developing her drama with suitable touches of funny and darker passages, it makes for non-commercial cinema as it focuses on old farts but old farts are as much as you and I longing for something already past. The journey to try and recapture that proves to be a healthy one for the characters and also winning, simmering cinema. You'll merely be slightly blown away and that's the touch Sylvia clearly had in mind.
Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Heavier wear at the top but only mild as we roll along, the transfer sports good detail and colours. Looks very natural.
The Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 track uses its fronts at select times for music but remains largely center based while also sounding clear. A few pops and crackles on the soundtrack doesn't distract.
The English subtitles read very clear with only the occasional spelling error that doesn't disrupt the translation anyway. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Mei Ah only include their Databank with plot synopsis and a cast & crew listing so naturally, this is a bare bonus disc from them.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson