This romance/drama opens in theaters in select cities in the U.S. and Canada today, Friday, September 5th. For city & theater information and to buy tickets, click here.
The film begins with a shot of a handsome young man (Nicholas Tse) walking near the Hudson River, just west of the World Financial Center's Winter Garden. The north tower of the World Trade Center looms tall in the background, to the east. Chinese characters and their English translation indicate that it's New York City in September, 2001. This brief opening scene sets a mood of ominous threat, as the terrorist plane attacks that will destroy both towers, and indeed the entire WTC complex, must surely be imminent.
The film then shifts to Beijing in 1976. An Ran is a cute four year old girl living outdoors in a tent with her mother and father in the wake of the Tangshan earthquake. Her mother is a doctor and leaves for Tangshan with a rescue team, never to return after the team has some sort of an accident.
Then it's 1982 and An Ran's father sends her to a Beijing school that's far away from where they live so that her schooling won't be affected by their neighbors gossiping. There she meets Zhao Yongyuan, an unkempt ragamuffin who takes to following her to her bus stop every day. Zhao lives with his grandmother. Their household is quite poor financially, as opposed to the relatively well-off one of An Ran and her father.
The bus stop where they wait together for her bus to arrive acquires great significance to each of them. They are separated when Zhao has to go live with an uncle, Old Ji (veteran Hong Kong character actor Lam Suet), but reunite in 1993 when she is a medical student following in her mother's footsteps and he and his uncle have returned to Beijing where they are street merchants.
At this point in the film, the now 21 year old An Ran is played by Mainland Chinese actress Yuanyuan GAO (Caught in the Web, Beijing Bicycle) and Zhao, who presumably is about the same age, is portrayed by Nicholas Tse (Bodyguards and Assassins, Shaolin), who makes his return to romantic dramas after a ten year absence during which he appeared in a series of action films including The Bullet Vanishes and The Viral Factor (both of which China Lion Film acquired for the North American market).
The remainder of the film charts the course of these two friends who would be lovers over the ensuing years, up to 2001 and beyond. Anran pursues her med school graduate work and Zhao becomes an entrepreneurial businessman, eventually also coming to New York as we've seen in the opening scene.
The two separate and come together, sometimes due to circumstances, sometimes because of their personal decisions. But fate seems to want them to be with one another. The only question that remains is will Zhao survive the 9/11 plane attacks on the World Trade Center, or will be be one of the lucky ones whom fate and circumstances spare.
The film marks the debut of Snow ZOU as both writer and director, and he's done an admirable job. As the film moves around in time and between two distance cities, there's never a doubt as to where and when what we are watching is taking place. The complications that arise and keep separating An Ran and Zhao are perhaps a bit too much, but not unduly so.
But Always is a solid romance that makes one care about the two lovers. particularly whether they will ultimately realize that they were meant to be together and, if they do, will fate permit it.
AsianCineFest Rating: 3 out of 4 stars; recommended for the type of film it is, a very touching romance.