Film Review: But Always

By Kevin Young

How long are people willing to wait to be with their true love? This is the question But Always (一生一世), a Chinese romantic film directed by Snow Zou explores. This love story set in both Beijing and New York City showcases beautiful cinematography from sky-scrappers to the bustling flea-markets from the 1970s to present day and it depicts the protagonists, Anran (Yuanyuan Gao) and Yongyuan (Nicholas Tse) romantic journey.

These two lovers start off as childhood friends. Both children understanding each other because of coming from broken families. Both of Yongyuan’s parents have passed away and Anran has loss her mother. Yongyuan shorter than Anran at the time naively follows her everywhere. The two habitually converse at the town’s local bus stop and despite coming from different backgrounds, Anran daughter of a wealthy socialite and Yongyuan the son of peasants, become best friends after Anran buys food for Yongyuan. Yet when Yongyuan’s grandmother who was his guardian passes away, Yongyuan is taken by his uncle and is forced to leave without saying goodbye to Anran. This theme of leaving is prevalent throughout the movie as one constantly leaves the other.

Fast forward about 12 years and Anran is striving to go to Colombia University to become an esteemed doctor while Yongyuan a rowdy market vendor travels with his uncle back to his hometown. By a stroke of luck the two bump into each other and rekindle their friendship and start to look at each other in a different light. Leaving behind childhood youth the two become attracted to one another. This lustful attraction is explored after Yongyuan saves them from a band of gangsters.

The two then hatch a plan for Yongyuan to meet Anran’s father and convince her father that he loves her and that she should stay in Beijing. They plan to meet at the bus stop that they share history at. Yet these plans are deferred when Yongyuan is sent to prison for brutally injuring one of the gang members despite it being in self-defense. Yongyuan makes the crucial and gut-wrenching decision of telling his friend to lie to Anran, stating that Yongyuan is with somebody else. Anran refusing to believe it is true stands out all night in the pouring rain with the false hope that Yongyuan will meet her yet after he doesn’t show she is heartbroken and turns cold.

The film then shifts to New York City about five years later. Anran is struggling to become a doctor as she works in a Chinese restaurant as a waitress. In addition to studying and working hard she has to deal with the loss of her father. Yongyuan now out of jail is a successful entrepreneur selling clothing. He makes it big after striking a deal with a Wall Street business man yet he has the agenda of finding Anran in the big city. It’s a striking contrast as Anran is now the poor one while Yongyuan is financially secure.

Time is now passing faster as the film is reaching its climatic point on if Yongyuan and Anran will finally get back together for good this time. She is forced with making a timely decision as she knows that Yongyuan will not wait forever. Yet her guilt of hurting Michael is always on her mind too. On the other hand Yongyuan is only continuing to work in New York City to be near Anran.

The final scene is an emotion evoking ending that will leave viewers speechless. Does Anran finally end up choosing Yongyuan or do events prevent the couple from being with each other? This drama provides insight on what it was like to grow up in China during the 1970s and depicts the working struggles residents here living in New York City face balancing their time. But Always combines both professional acting from the two stars and visually appealing scenery to deliver a universal love story that is sure to draw emotions.

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