I am not familiar at all with international films and wanted to expand my movie preferences. Also, I’m a sucker for romantic movies, so the synopsis drew me in. I advise that anyone who is planning on watching this movie immediately stop reading this review because there will be a number of spoilers. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
But Always is about your first love; one you cannot forget. The movie title already gives you a sense of lingering feelings and thoughts possibly foreshadowing what’s to come. But Always shows the take on love when you find the one for you and then other circumstances get in the way. However, you will always find your way back to each other.
The beginning of the film opens strong. There’s an earthquake that happens in Beijing in the 1970s, and now everyone is living in a campsite. The overall campsite where they are staying does not look as authentic as a movie viewer would hope, but it does the job. Also, the years are being noted on the screen and help let us know when a transition in time is being made. Thus, timing becomes key in the movie and acts as a motivator in helping the movie progress.
In the scene, we see the young Aran discover that her mother, who is a doctor, goes off to help the people who were injured in the earthquake. But before she leaves—the emotion and direction of the scene hint that she is not coming back—she advises Aran to become a doctor too.
Although the movie starts off strong, it begins to slowly have some rough parts. The young Zhao, who came from a poor background, hardly has any family left besides his grandmother and uncle. Moreover, we learn that he too lost his mother when he was really young. Thus, when he meets Aran, that becomes their immediate connection despite the difference in social status. We later find out that Zhao’s grandmother passed away, a moment that is brushed over and does not provide the needed smooth transition.
Each of the shots in the movie are simple and mainly focus on lighting the characters in the scene. Some of the special effects, such as the use of a green screen, could have blended in more with the surroundings. As a viewer, you could tell that some of the backgrounds were fake and more special effects needed to be added.
During the portion of the movie that happens in Beijing, Aran and Zhao begin to form an intimate relationship, one where Aran would be followed by Zhao and his footsteps would become a familiar sound. A number of the scenes focus on the sound of the footsteps alone, which was an interesting direction to take.
As the two main characters get older, Zhao (played by Nicholas Tse) is working with his uncle in a flea market, and Aran (played by Yuanyuan Gao) is fulfilling her mother’s wish and studying to become a doctor and study abroad in the states.
Fast forward and we find ourselves in New York, where the two lovebirds are bound to meet again. The shots of New York City made me want to visit the Big Apple. We see Zhao go from poor boy to rich business executive. But Aran, who had big hopes and dreams, is having a hard time fulfilling them. However, the lack of explanation seems to be consistent throughout the film. For example, I have no idea when Aran got the job to be a tour guide in New York City, but it happened.
Currently, she is in a relationship with a guy she met during her first job as a dishwasher in the states, but Zhao is determined to find her, and find her he will, by the sound of her footsteps of course. Since Aran is consumed with work and always busy, her boyfriend decides to dump her because of the lack of quality time.
Now that Zhao and Aran are both single, they could be together, right? Nope! After a passionate night spent together after finding each other and connecting again in New York City, Aran’s ex-boyfriend tries to win her back. As he has a dramatic exit, we hear a car crash as the screen goes to black. I’m assuming he ran out into the street without looking, but honestly, this scene was just too confusing to comprehend.
Thus, here we are again. She ends up going back to her ex-boyfriend to take care of him, but years pass and he sees that she’s unhappy. Not sure what took him so long to figure that out, but what’s another three years passing by, right? So Aran calls Zhao, and he has never left New York and has been waiting for her the whole time. The year is 2001 and as they are making this call, he is in one of the Twin Towers handling business matters. His end of the call goes blank, and news breaks out that the Twin Towers were hit. I did not see this coming, and at least it did not offer a cliché happily ever after, so I can vouch for this ending. So even though the two do not end up together, at least we can say that in life you will never forget your first love.
Even though watching this movie was quite the trip, there were good aspects of it. The lighting and the camera angles were done really well. I was literally in awe of how beautiful the movie was. If the movie was a silent film, you could still enjoy the camera work that was done. So if you paused the movie, it would still look amazing. Here are some of the stills from the movie, and you can see how each just looks like a beautiful photograph!
Also, the wardrobe matched the time period and the status of each of the characters nicely. In addition, the casting was good. The children who played the younger versions of Aran and Zhao had good screen presence and did a marvelous job capturing the innocence and personality of each character.
But I would say that I am happy with the ending and how it was not the typical love story. It makes sense how the movie was released in September, being that September 11 was a huge part of the ending of the movie. Also, this movie did open my eyes and encouraged me to watch more international films because of how styles differ from country to country.