It has been a long time since I felt moved to write about something. Though it was aired in Hong Kong in late 2011, I only recently watched this show.
Brought to us by acclaimed producing/writing team, Jonathan Chik (戚其义) and Chow Yuk Ming (周旭明), “When Heaven Burns” (天與地) is most aptly named.
The Cantonese/Chinese title literally means – Heaven (天堂) and Hell (地獄), or as I interpret it – where heaven meets hell. For that is the exact premise of the series, a dark landscape of fierce turmoil, littered with spots of profound happiness and peace.
It was not what I expected from a TVB drama serial and I could not stop thinking about this show, its scenes, its characters, its music, its words. When I started writing, I realised that I wanted to do more than a review. I wanted to reminisce about it.
Before you start this long trek down memory lane with me, please be aware that this post is riddled with spoilers. Do not read unless you have watched the show in its entirety, have no intention of watching it, or just wish to read an English recap/translation of (what I deem to be) the pertinent parts of the show.
Casually shouldering bulky bags, a woman strolls along a remote mountain road. The skies open and she takes shelter at a tent set up over a roadside telephone switch post. The attendant telephone technician, a youth half her age, offers to patch her through to any number. She declines, saying she has no one to call.
Meanwhile, at a nearby road block, her husband and lover come to blows as they hound the rescue squad for news of her whereabouts. Amid the curious onlookers and reporters, are three men standing at a distance from each other, quietly watching and waiting for word on the missing woman.
Offering a lift to his stranded guest, the young technician drops the woman outside her apartment building. As she gets off his motorcycle, he leans forward and ends up stealing a kiss from a teenage girl.
Suddenly everything snapped into place. It was like waking from a dream, for that was the moment I realised how the measured pace of the show had drawn me into the surreal circumstances of the characters. How I had been lulled to not question the obsolete switch post, the lack of cellular phones and a myriad other elements incongruous with modern times.
This first episode set the tone for the entire series. The deft interception of past and present selves. The stark representation of uncomfortable, even taboo, subjects. The unabashed portrayal of human licentiousness, callousness and whimsy. These and more hearkened back to the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, which used to be a hotbed of quirky, unfettered films with an artistic bend.
Allowing the hypnotic soundtrack, striking visuals and invocative dialogue to saturate my senses, I was submerged in a world swimming in subversive metaphors and seething emotions. A world of vivid colours and deep contrasts. A world of bitter sweet nostalgia and immersive reveries presented most overtly by the nocturnal musings of a late night radio host.
Promiscuous, cuttingly direct and a borderline alcoholic, DJ Yip Chi Yan (葉梓恩) is the atypical sun that the other characters revolve around. Yan is not your conventional disc jockey. She does not crack jokes, play trendy popular music nor report the news. She traipses all over Hong Kong in four-inch stiletto boots, recording the sounds of nature and civilisation with a boom microphone and a bulky old-school mixer.
Playing these audio recordings on her programme, she lets the sounds that normally fade into the background of life take centre stage. As she leisurely discourses on various subjects, we gain an intimate insight into her inner thoughts and circumstances. When Yan found herself walking along a remote road she travelled many years ago, she was forced to confront a ghost from her past.
Eighteen years ago, her boyfriend (Hui Ka Meng – 許家明) and three closest friends went on a mountaineering trip. Four youths went up the mountains but only three returned. The survivors went their separate ways, up till one fateful night at a remote road block, the three meet again for the first time in almost two decades.
One of the men, Ronnie, had just returned to Hong Kong from Canada. He approaches the other two, Hak-Zhai (黑仔) and Gu-Lo (鼓佬), eager to catch up on lost time. He goes to the radio station and looks up Yan. All his efforts at reunion are curtly rebuffed.
Up on the snowy mountains all those years ago, Ronnie had developed a fever and does not remember anything that happened on the trip. Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo both maintained that Ka-Meng trekked down the mountain by himself looking for help, leaving them to tend a fevered Ronnie in their wintry camp. He never returned and they eventually made their way down the mountain without him.
Yan was devastated by Ka-Meng’s disappearance. Coming from a broken home, her only loving relative was an elderly grandmother, who died when she was just an adolescent. Neglected by her divorced parents, Yan built herself a new family, comprised of the four members of a fledgling pop rock band.
Ka-Meng, her erstwhile boyfriend, shared lead vocals with the other guitarist, Hak-Zhai. Ronnie was the bassist and Gu-Lo, the drummer. Yan was their biggest, sometimes only, supporter. In the aftermath of the mountaineering trip, she lost, not just her beloved boyfriend, but the only family she had ever known. Buried in grief and loss, the teenage Yan coped with the crushing desolation by escaping reality.
Eighteen years later, we see her drinking to excess, recording and commenting on life but not being an active participant, making no commitments she cannot easily uproot herself from. With her big luminous eyes and edgy punk-rocker style, Charmaine Sheh (佘詩曼) brought forth an intense, introspective and resolute personality that was mesmerising to watch.
The three men found different ways to cope with the aftermath of the mountaineering trip.
Hak-Zhai, chose the path of self-destruction, most clearly shown by his interest in kick-boxing. Frequently covered in bruises and injuries, he is an unscrupulous derivatives trader who thrills in taking unmitigated risks with other people’s money.
Moses Chan (陳豪) was outstanding as Sung Yee Long (宋以朗), nicknamed Hak-Zhai, as he effortlessly portrayed the subtle nuances of this ruthless, yet emotive, charmer. Highly manipulative and aggressive, Hak-Zhai excels at seducing and exploiting women.
His fiancee is a gullible wealthy socialite whom he intends to marry for her money. His assistant is his former girlfriend and supervisor, who now meekly follows his orders and helps him look after his fiancee. There were even rumours of one of his numerous ex-girlfriends going to jail for him.
This is in direct contrast to the path of atonement Gu-Lo took. An overworked, underpaid activist for workers’ rights, he is a respected altruist who tempers the fervent young activists with the pacifist teachings of his mentor.
A talented spin doctor, the deeply conflicted Lau Chun Hung (劉俊雄), known as Gu-Lo (drummer) to his old friends, was deftly played by a stoic Bowie Lam (林保怡), who presented a righteous man with a tightly leashed temper.
Abstaining from meat, organising and participating in hunger protests, Gu-Lo’s extreme dedication to social welfare has wrecked havoc on both his health and marriage. Sentimental and non-confrontational, he drives an old battered car that he cannot bear to replace and cooks the same dishes for his wife everyday, leaving post-it notes for her instead of addressing her directly.
But the most extreme method of dealing with the tragedy was unwittingly taken by Ronnie, for he had literally forgotten the events on the mountaineering trip. Living an acute representation of pretending that something had never happened, Ronnie was the only one of the four who has led a relatively normal life.
The picture of geniality, Kenny Wong (黃德斌), with his tall sturdy frame and affable nature, was rather apt as the calm, stabilising influence that is Cheng Chun Hin (鄭振軒). Interestingly, he is also the only one who is addressed in the same way (Ronnie) by almost everyone in his life, signalling that he shows a single face to the world.
A successful financial consultant enjoying early retirement, Ronnie has a loving wife and two happy discerning children. Suffering from a hereditary condition that will cause him to lose his eyesight within ten years, he is determined to see his friends reunited before he goes blind.
Unhampered by the past, Ronnie, with his gentle disposition and dauntless attitude, patiently attempts to bridge eighteen years of separation. One night, fretting over a recent fight between Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo, Ronnie was forced to pull over while driving because his vision suddenly went dark. He turns on the radio and is surprised to hear Yan’s voice.
Yan talks about how some places in Hong Kong had changed beyond recognition from her grandmother’s time. She wonders if the city is changing too fast, if future generations will ask the same questions that past generations had. Fortunately, the nostalgic “ding ding” sound of trams has not changed.
Her grandmother loved to watch trams reach the end depot, reverse direction and switch numbers, ready to set off again. She recalls her grandmother saying that the depot is the end point for one tram, but also the starting point for another. A concept no different from living.
Listening to Yan on the radio, Ronnie dredges from the recesses of his mind, the notes to a song that Ka-Meng composed before his death. Soon after, he ambushes her at the station again and asks her to mediate between Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo.
When she coldly declines, Ronnie hands over a dubbed version of Ka-Meng’s composition, stating that even if she wants to deny their history, he will never deny Ka-Meng and the abiding influence of his existence and deeds. That night, Yan plays the song on her show and says that she wants to tell her friend that he is not the only one who remembers this tune.
After her broadcast, Yan finds Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo waiting outside the radio station. Relocating to the pub they used to frequent in their youth, she calls Ronnie to join them. When he arrives, Yan gives them a brutal dressing down.
She says that they are beholden to her because they failed to bring Ka-Meng safely down from the mountain, even after each of them promised her that they would look after him. For that reason, they seek her out and are willing to listen to her. She is not interested in why they are at odds with each other, but if they continue to fight, they are never to appear before her again because she does not wish to see that Ka-Meng had given up his life for such wretched people.
After Yan stalks out of the pub, the three men quietly leave and walk to their respective cars. When Gu-Lo finds his car stuck between two other vehicles, Ronnie and Hak-Zhai mosey over and help him shift his car, inch by painful inch. The years of discord and distance melt away as they fall into familiar patterns of banter.
Shortly after, Hak-Zhai sends out wedding invitations to Gu-Lo, Ronnie and their families, as well as one to Yan at her radio station. On the night of the wedding, when Yan walked into the ballroom, it was as if the sun had risen, chasing away the shadows of the past and heralding a new dawn, a new start.
That night, the four newly reunited friends and their families sit round the dinner table and reminisce about the past, and finally, about Ka-Meng. After the dinner ends, with his new bride soundly asleep in their suite, Hak-Zhai wanders the hotel and finds Yan passed out in a ballroom. What follows is a most beautiful scene.
The cavernous ballroom, captured in a wide angle lens, is dominated by a huge dome ceiling light that shines brilliantly down upon the lone table in the cleared room. Yan sits at the table, upper body draped over the silk covered tabletop, head pillowed on her forearms. Hak-Zhai sits and stares at her in poignant silence.
Ronnie enters the ballroom and Hak-Zhai is unsurprised, just saying that she is catching up on lost sleep. Ronnie pulls up a seat and unties his shoe laces. When Gu-Lo walks in, Ronnie simply repeats that she has been insomniac.
Yan wakes up to a room filled with flying paper aeroplanes, lazily drifting against the blazing background of the dome ceiling light. As she gazes at the three men gleefully flinging paper planes in the air, the tears well and spill over.
When the men cautiously approach, she asks if she has truly awoken. She tells them that in the few years after Ka-Meng’s disappearance, she would dream every night. But she would always be aware that she was dreaming and would tell herself that once she wakes up, everyone would return to her side. Every morning she would happily wake up, only for the loneliness to crush her even more. She does not want to return to that dream, she does not want to keep waking up that way.
I love that the show does not belabour a point, merely presenting a scene laden with meaning and then allowing the layers to seep into the consciousness. This speech revealed that Yan had no real closure from Ka-Meng’s sudden disappearance. She had no body to bury, no way to know if he was dead, no reason to hope for his return.
At the end of the first episode, after her unexpected walk down memory lane, Yan realised that she had been vainly seeking to replace Ka-Meng and broke it off with her lover (Arthur) in front of her husband. A musician and composer, Arthur’s appeal to Yan became more apparent as flashbacks show Ka-Meng not only playing the guitar but also writing music.
After returning home with her husband (Bowman), Yan asked him for a divorce. He reeled in anguish and stated that he remembers how good she had been to him, all the things she had done for him. She tenderly cradled his face in her hands and said that she knows, but she only just remembered that it was all a lie.
We see shades of Ka-Meng’s kindness and patience in Bowman (played by a sensitive Ben Wong – 黃智賢) and at that moment, we realise that she has not been deliberately misleading him, but had been deceiving herself all along. Leaving both husband and lover, her subconscious substitutes for Ka-Meng, Yan took the first step towards breaking free from the false life she had been living.
A few days later, Yan wandered through a columbarium, gazing searchingly at rows of plagues inscribed with the names and pictures of the deceased. Unable to admit that Ka-Meng is dead and not just finding a way back home, she had not visited his niche before now. Inside was just an empty urn but she was finally ready to face his death and her eternal loss.
The night of Hak-Zhai’s wedding, as she woke from a drunken slumber and saw the three men before her, behaving like their carefree younger selves, it was as if her desperate wish all those years ago had finally been fulfilled. To have her friends and family return to her when she wakes up.
I love the little things in this scene. How Hak-Zhai laid his head on the table next to hers. How Ronnie untied his shoe laces, a clear signal that he was not going anywhere. How in the next shot, he had actually completely removed his shoes and placed them neatly beside his chair. How all that was said when Gu-Lo entered was that she had been insomniac, and that was all the explanation needed. How they wordlessly stood vigil over her while she rested.
Returning from their honeymoon, Emma, Hak-Zhai’s new wife, invites the other three and their families over to their house for a gathering. Casting Maggie Shiu (邵美琪) as the effervescent, smitten Emma was rather unexpected, a personality so different from her usual cool roles. Maggie’s Emma had a nice balance of guilelessness and willfulness, showing her earnest immature outlook on life.
Serious and elegant, Astrid Chan (陳芷菁) was in her element as Gina, Gu-Lo’s rather austere wife. Though she had been dating Gu-Lo since their teens and knows the others for a long time, she displays no especial warmth towards them. She is also the only one in the show to address Gu-Lo as Joe, an indicator that she is an outsider, separate from the cliques that her husband belongs to.
As the caring, rather prone to worry Shirley, Angela Tong (湯盈盈) was by turns amusing and heartfelt, the perfect foil to her unflappable husband, Ronnie. This gathering precipitates the single blissful moment in the entire show. The four friends are playing pool, Ronnie and Yan against Gu-Lo and Hak-Zhai. They pull out all the stops trying to win, mercilessly distracting and teasing each other. This scene was like a drop of happiness in a pool of angst.
A few days later, Emma visits Yan at her radio station. Yan brings her along to an underground rock concert. At the concert, Yan meets up with Dr. Dylan, a retiring fellow radio host. Played by Joe Junior (祖·尊尼亞), Dr. Dylan says that youths nowadays prefer karaoke and all music is to them are love songs. He does not mind if the music of his time disappears, what he fears is that the aspirations behind the music no longer hold meaning for people.
Yan asks what rock and roll means to him. He asks her to look at the world around her, at how their city had turned out. Blinded by money, people are no longer able to tell right from wrong. People have been moulded by society to eat the same food, enjoy the same TV shows, advocate the same values, abide by the same rules of existence. This city is dying, you know?
His entire career, he had wanted to help organise a rock festival rooted in Hong Kong ideals and values. But he is now retiring and all he has to show for it is a lot of empty talk. Yan goes looking for Emma and finds her delightedly rocking it out with the youngsters.
On Dr. Dylan’s last show, he says that after all this time, people are still asking him what the essence of rock and roll is. He has been answering this question for over thirty years and has always repeated the same simple words. Independent spirit, resisting dogma, freedom, love, forward-looking. Not just for rock and roll, but should not the same words be applied to life as well?
Meanwhile, Gina’s infidelity has been uncovered and Gu-Lo’s friends rally around him, Hak-Zhai even punching out her lover. As Gu-Lo pounds the drums at their usual drinking haunt, driving out all the customers, the other three book the pub for the night. They sit amid the deafening drumming, wordlessly drinking and watching, making no move to stop or comfort him, just offering their silent company.
Soon after Gina moves out, Gu-Lo sits alone in his living room, staring at the clock. The hands have stopped moving. He takes it down and replaces the battery, turning the hands forward a few hours. He wipes the clock face as the hands start moving again. Time had stopped for him all those years ago, but he has made a decision to finally move on with his life.
One day, Yan catches Hak-Zhai playing an air guitar in a record store. After much teasing, he escorts her to a music store where she has a meeting. She tells Hak-Zhai the meeting is about a rock festival she is organising with Dr. Dylan. While waiting for her, he picks up an electric guitar for the first time in years and starts playing it. That night, he plays for his assistant, Jessica, as he pours his yearning and regret into the plaintive tune.
When Gu-Lo’s car breaks down, Yan lends him hers and in return, he insists on picking her up after work. They fall into a routine of having dessert together every night, before he sends her home. At the same time, Gu-Lo’s mentor persuades him to run with him for seats in the Legislative Council. His friends are highly supportive, promising their votes and help with funding and publicity.
Regaining possession of his own vehicle and busy with campaigning, Gu-Lo and Yan meet less often for dessert. Gu-Lo misses her company and realises that he was seeing her as more than a friend. He is not the only one to notice. Hak-Zhai calls him out and tells him in no uncertain terms that they have no right to court or be with Yan because they had both participated in eating Ka-Meng.
Through flashbacks and cryptic recriminations, we already have an inkling that events on the mountain were much more sinister than officially reported. But this was actually the first time that our suspicions were so clearly confirmed. This was also the first serious fracture of the rekindled friendship among the four.
However, cracks have already begun to form long before this, for the masks the four had donned all these years started to crumble the moment they came into contact with each other.
Though painfully blunt at times, Yan had always been poised and temperate. The first time we saw her lose her cool was when Ronnie looked her up at the station.
The craftiest of the four in their youth, Gu-Lo put aside his pacifist dogma and instigated a workers’ strike after a nasty encounter with Hak-Zhai.
Hak-Zhai abandoned a chance to flee his creditors and exact vengeance on Gu-Lo, after hearing Yan play Ka-Meng’s song on the radio.
Ronnie became consumed with recapturing the past after Yan was reported as missing and he met Gu-Lo and Hak-Zhai again at the roadblock.
Real friends bring out the best and worst in each other. Once more in the presence of their best friends, the four find their true selves emerging.
Not content with just warning him off, Hak-Zhai alerts Yan to Gu-Lo’s feelings. At their next dessert session, Yan gently broaches the subject and Gu-Lo relates a story from “The Little Prince”. A fox meets the prince everyday at the same time. One day, the prince did not turn up and the fox was desolate.
Gu-Lo says that after a hard day’s work, he is happy to see Yan, eat dessert together, chat with her. During the times they are unable to meet up, he feels forlorn and bereft, for with their nightly routine, she had unknowingly tamed him, just like how the prince had tamed the fox.
Assuring her that he knows they can only be friends, Gu-Lo is confident of burying these feelings forever. Yan says that any woman would be happy to know that someone cares about her and thanks him. He thanks her in turn, saying that by initiating this talk, he knows that she cares about his feelings, cares about their relationship. Yan says she treasures their friendship. He says he understand. They eat in amicable silence.
Gu-Lo goes back to his office and works in the dark. He picks up a guitar and starts playing it. He stops abruptly and smashes the guitar to pieces, his simmering anger finally surfacing.
When Gu-Lo makes up with his wife, Yan tells Hak-Zhai that in Gina’s absence, Gu-Lo had merely transferred his affections to her. She believes that Gina would not have returned to his side if she did not feel that Gu-Lo loves her wholeheartedly. Hak-Zhai is incredulous but does not pursue it. Driving back from the meeting, he sees Gu-Lo’s campaign poster and sets it on fire, enraged at the other man’s duplicity.
Meanwhile, Emma uncovers Hak-Zhai’s affair with Jessica (his assistant) and is distraught. Hak-Zhai, in a bid to regain her trust, accuses her elder sister (Brenda) of colluding with him to con Emma out of her inheritance. He tells Emma that he cannot lie to her any longer because he has inadvertently fallen in love with her.
Emma confronts her elder sister and is torn when Brenda says that if she believes they had conspired against her, then neither of them are good people and Emma should divorce Hak-Zhai. One cannot help but feel sorry for Brenda (played by a commanding Elaine Jin – 金燕玲), who truly cares for her sister and had always detested Hak-Zhai, knowing him for the gold-digger he is. Ronnie and Yan are appalled and concerned at this turn of events, Gu-Lo, not so much.
When Hak-Zhai refuses to return their calls, Gu-Lo pulls a trick to call him out, telling him that Ronnie and Yan are really worried. He curtly reminds Hak-Zhai that the following day is Ka-Meng’s death anniversary. The next day finds Hak-Zhai cleaning Ka-Meng’s plague when the other three arrive.
After adjourning to their usual pub, Ronnie demands a clear accounting from Hak-Zhai, who states that he does not need to explain his personal life to them. Ronnie asks how they are friends if he does not share anything with them. Gu-Lo says they will believe whatever he tells them.
Hak-Zhai says that it is precisely because he treats them as friends that he does not intend to lie to them. Yan finally speaks up, thanking Hak-Zhai for paying his respects to Ka-Meng and telling him that he can leave if he wants to. He does.
Amid all the drama with Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo, Ronnie hides his growing inner panic. Ronnie had a breathtaking scene where, alone in the kitchen, he prepared and cooked a meal with his eyes closed. When his son praises the cooking, he merely smiled in contentment. But after getting stuck in a pitch black elevator, his normal equanimity about his impending blindness starts to fray.
When his daughter approaches Yan for advice, Yan realises that Ronnie is not as unflappable as he appears. She seeks him out and tells him that he has been dealt an unfair hand, but that he in turn is being unfair to his family by not allowing them to help him. She tells him to try trusting someone else and asks him to close his eyes.
Yan takes Ronnie’s hand and places it on her shoulder, carefully leading him through the city. Upon crossing a road, a pedestrian knocks into him and he loses his hold on her shoulder. He stands there helplessly lost, with his hand grasping air. Yan reaches out and closes her hand over his, gently pulling him along.
A few nights later, Ronnie and Shirley are walking along the street and she expresses doubts about being the responsible parent, being the one to take care of him and the kids. Ronnie closes his eyes and asks her to lead him across the road. As she leads him by the hand, someone knocks into him and she loses her hold on him.
Ronnie recalls the same thing happening with Yan and calmly stands in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, his hand outstretched, a trusting smile on his lips. Shirley takes his hand and chastises him, saying that it is dangerous to be doing this in the middle of the road. Ronnie smiles brighter and says that he is confident his wife will lead him to safety.
As Shirley continues to tow him by the hand, he recalls Yan leading him down steps and streets. His smile fades as he realises that he had been imagining it was Yan all along.
Meanwhile, Hak-Zhai is beaten up and sent to the hospital with a broken arm. Believing that Brenda was behind the attack, Emma falls out with her sister and pours her sorrows out to Yan. Leaving Emma passed out drunk in her apartment, Yan goes to work.
During her broadcast, Yan relates the story of a rich man. Jealous of the happiness of a poor chef, the rich man leaves a bag containing 99 gold coins on the chef’s doorstep. Initially delighted with the windfall, he gets frustrated when he only counts 99 coins. Obsessed with obtaining a round hundred, the chef plots with others to cheat his brother out of his entire fortune, a gold coin.
Yan says that people will change for greed, for money. They will bury their conscience, forsake familial ties. The rich man used 99 gold coins to buy another man’s greed. That man in turn betrayed his closest kin for a gold coin. But in reality, what does the 99 gold coins represent?
The ideals as espoused by eminent personages in society? The edification from parents and schools? The loss of a good friend? The overly harsh castigation and resentment of someone close? If that is the case, then that someone is the 99 gold coins. 99 pieces of ignorance and self-righteousness.
Leaving the radio station, Yan finds Gu-Lo waiting for her. Over dessert, he tells her that even if she did not blame them, they would still blame themselves for Ka-Meng’s death. Anguish and guilt will cause a man to change his way of life. Changing for the better or the worse, is up to the person. So he tells her that she is definitely not the 99 gold coins she spoke of.
He says that Hak-Zhai did not want to explain because he did not want to lie to them. He treats them as friends and in return they should respect his wishes and not interfere. She asks if he expects Ronnie to agree if he repeats what he just said to the other guy.
In fact, Ronnie is right then asking Brenda to let Hak-Zhai off the hook, to not send anyone else after him. Brenda turns the tables on him, telling him that the one who benefits the most from the assault is Hak-Zhai himself. Ronnie goes to the hospital and confronts Hak-Zhai. Gu-Lo walks in just as Ronnie accuses Hak-Zhai of orchestrating the whole assault in order to frame Brenda and sow discord between the sisters.
Hak-Zhai admits it, stunning the other two men. Hak-Zhai scolds them for interfering with his plan, saying that his deceiving Emma has nothing to do with them. Ronnie cries that he did not want to believe it and that Hak-Zhai did not used to be like this, what happened to make him this way? Hak-Zhai explodes, screaming that because he does not realise what had happened, Ronnie can remain so oblivious.
Ronnie shouts that Hak-Zhai cannot treat Emma this way and Hak-Zhai shouts back that every man lies to his women, including Ronnie. Spitting out that he is beyond hope, Ronnie leaves the hospital room. Gu-Lo stops Hak-Zhai from chasing after him.
Hak-Zhai pulls out his phone, intent on disclosing to Ronnie the events on the mountain. Whatever he did, they did together. If he is beyond hope, so is Ronnie. Gu-Lo wrestles the phone from him, throws it on the ground and stomps on it. He says that if Hak-Zhai wants to drive Ronnie to his grave, then go ahead and spill the beans.
At this time, Ronnie is about to leave the hospital when he spots Emma arriving. He starts towards her, but then stops and does not approach her. Meanwhile, Hak-Zhai stares at a new phone in his hand, unable to make the threatened call to Ronnie.
Ronnie and Yan sit in a park, pondering Hak-Zhai’s drastic change in character. He used to be the most inexperienced of the guys. Hak-Zhai and Yan used to date, before Ka-Meng came into the picture, and he had only managed to win her affections because Ronnie and Gu-Lo taught him how to court her.
Ronnie wonders if their city can really change someone that much. Yan says there was once a boy who picked up ten cents from the street. For the rest of his life he could not raise his head. People always say that Hong Kong is filled with money-making opportunities. This is the city they live in.
Ronnie asks Yan if she thinks Ka-Meng will change as well, if he was still alive. She turns the question on him. Ronnie thinks everyone will change that way, even if only by a little. Yan wonders if that is why Ronnie did not approach Emma when he saw her at the hospital.
He says it was because of Hak-Zhai’s declaration that every man lies to the women around him. For that reason, he feels he has no right to expose Hak-Zhai. Yan is surprised that the honourable Ronnie is hiding something from Shirley.
Birds flock into the park and Yan rushes to record them. Ronnie is bemused at how rowdy the birds are. It is because they are happy to return home, says Yan. He smiles at her and says that she does not have to worry about him and Shirley, they are fine. On the way to their cars, Ronnie and Yan encounter a mugger holding a knife.
Ronnie makes a grab for the knife and is stabbed in the side. The mugger attacks Yan and cuts her hand. Ronnie pounces on him, finally knifing the other guy in self-defence. Ronnie ends up at the hospital, recovering from his knife wound. As his family flutters around him in concern, he is unresponsive and deathly silent. When Yan comes to visit him, he hides in the bathroom, terrified.
The doctor diagnoses him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He says that Yan’s presence reminds him of the attack and that is why he refuses to see her. Ronnie calls Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo to the hospital. He tells them that he finally understands why they changed into the men they have become. The last few nights, he had been having nightmares of the attack. But as he stabbed the mugger, the face before him changed into Ka-Meng’s. He remembers the feeling of stabbing someone, the taste of blood.
The other two tell him that those are merely dreams, not reality. Ronnie says he remembers that they killed and ate Ka-Meng. He demands to know if they have been lying to him all these years. Hak-Zhai denies it vehemently, but Ronnie no longer trusts the words of a conman like him. Gu-Lo remains silent as Ronnie turns to him and demands answers. Alerted by the shouting, a nurse charges in and chases the two visitors away.
Leaving the hospital, Hak-Zhai tells Gu-Lo that if they maintain their stand, Ronnie will believe that he is only hallucinating, that the attack and pain medication are messing with his mind and memory. Gu-Lo states that it is fate wanting Ronnie to remember. Nothing they say can stop it. Hak-Zhai says that Ronnie still believes in Gu-Lo. If Gu-Lo sticks to their story, Ronnie will be convinced.
Gu-Lo refuses to lie to Ronnie any longer. Hak-Zhai warns that Gu-Lo will have no chance of getting elected if the truth comes out. Gu-Lo says the election is none of his concern. Hak-Zhai retorts that the one he is most concerned about is not Gu-Lo or even Ronnie, but Yan. It took so long and so much for her wound to heal and now they want to rip it open again. If Gu-Lo can bear to do so, then so be it.
Visiting Ronnie at the hospital, Gu-Lo tells him that they did not kill Ka-Meng. He says it is because Ka-Meng died trying to help them that they are burdened with survivors’ guilt. Ronnie is cast into distressed confusion, but quietens and stops his questioning.
Meanwhile, reports of Gina’s extra-marital affair has been splashed all over the news, adversely affecting Gu-Lo’s political campaign. He goes on air to clarify the reports, but instead of denying them, he defends Gina, saying that he pushed her into making a mistake. He asks them not to harass his wife any more and says that he cannot help it if people are unwilling to vote for someone with marital problems.
At their apartment, Gina sobs as she listens to his words. When Gu-Lo returns home, he apologises to her for admitting her affair on air, knowing that it might make things awkward for her at work. Gina is a nurse and her ex-lover, a doctor working at the same hospital. Gina cries and swears that she will never leave him again.
That night, Gu-Lo’s mentor listens in dismay as the news report the latest polling results, which placed them as forerunners in the elections after Gu-Lo’s broadcast garnered many sympathy votes. We hear a priest narrate the story of Peter, the most devoted disciple, denying Jesus three times. He states that the conscience is the most fragile facet of man. Just speaking three simple lies is enough to betray the most precious aspect of humanity.
This was the true turning point for Gu-Lo, for with these three lies, lying to Ronnie, lying on air, then lying to his wife, he has betrayed everything he had ever fought for and believed in. He becomes increasingly underhanded in forwarding his political campaign.
In bed with Hak-Zhai, his ex-assistant (Jessica) muses that she feels guilty towards Emma, as if she is betraying a friend. He is surprised she views Emma so fondly. Jessica says that she had always just humoured the other woman as she would a wealthy patron, but that Emma has always treated her as a friend.
Hak-Zhai says that sometimes by withholding the truth, one is protecting rather than harming a friend. She asks if that is merely an excuse, for if she cannot even face and address the other person with candour, how can she say that she truly has a friend’s best interest at heart.
This strikes a chord with Hak-Zhai and the next day, he visits Ronnie at home, who has been discharged from the hospital. Ronnie says that he will not say anything to Emma and curtly asks him to leave.
At the lift in Ronnie’s apartment building, Hak-Zhai runs into Gu-Lo, who warns him not to harass Ronnie. Hak-Zhai says that he is there out of concern, unlike Gu-Lo, who is there to check that Ronnie does not mention his memories of the mountaineering trip. He can tell that Gu-Lo’s words during the radio broadcast was a bid for sympathy, not truth. They part in mutual animosity.
Meanwhile, Ronnie has become increasingly sullen and agitated, seriously alarming his family. After his temper frightens their children to tears, Shirley seeks Yan out. Shirley says that she was trying to be strong but she has only been pretending. She needs her husband back, the children need their father back.
She knows that Yan had not visited Ronnie because she does not want to remind him of the attempted mugging. But she thinks that he is avoiding Yan because he feels responsible for her getting hurt in the attack. Yan is puzzled and then stunned when Shirley talks of how she had once accidentally opened a folder on Ronnie’s computer. The folder was filled with photographs of Yan.
Shirley says she understands her husband and knows how he feels about Yan, but she does not mind. Yan rushes to assure her that nothing is going on between Ronnie and herself, that there is no possibility of anything like that happening.
Shirley says that she does not care if Yan knew of his feelings, or if they had discussed it and come to an understanding beforehand. All she wants is for Ronnie to heal and return to his old self. She begs Yan to talk to Ronnie and help him resolve his inner turmoil. Yan can only stare at her in pained silence.
Ronnie is at the hospital finishing a check-up and is startled when Yan arrives to pick him up instead of Shirley. Left with no choice, Ronnie leaves the hospital with her. As they walk along the street, Yan tells him that Emma has returned to Hak-Zhai’s side. She had a sudden epiphany that Emma is willing to believe Hak-Zhai, not because he is such a good liar, but because she just simply loves him too much.
She says it is Hak-Zhai’s misfortune that he is unable to cherish such a devoted wife and she asks Ronnie not to follow his example. When Ronnie looks surprised, Yan tells him that Shirley feels that deep in his heart, what he cherishes the most, is not his family. Though she is not certain and wishes that it is all a misunderstanding, Yan hopes that Emma’s story will not become Shirley’s story.
Yan states that for a wife to seek out the woman her husband loves, in order to help him, is not something every woman can do. Even Emma who loves Hak-Zhai so much might not be able to do the same. She hopes he can consider carefully and figure out who in his life is truly the most important.
When Ronnie remains silent, Yan says that it is getting late and that he should make his own way back. She knows his eyesight is worse at night, but she believes that the road home is so familiar to him that he should have no problems finding it. She trusts that he will figure out a way to return to his family.
This was rather lovely and reminded me of the scene in the park, where birds flew back to their nests in a cloud of riotous gaiety and Yan told Ronnie that it was because they were happy to return home. It was like a harbinger of this speech.
Ronnie wanders the streets alone and ends up at the building their band used to practice in. Entering the apartment they rented, currently undergoing renovation, Ronnie sits in the living room and cries as he recalls the times spent there, the way the three guys helped Ka-Meng get over shingles, only to contract chickenpox themselves.
The next morning finds Ronnie at home preparing breakfast for his family. His children are delighted and relieved, his wife disbelieving. Shirley tearfully approaches him, asking if she is dreaming. He says it was him who had been dreaming.
Ronnie says that he has figured out past events, especially regarding his friends. Good friends will always remain good friends, never changing. Such good friends will never do anything to hurt each other or the people around them. He now knows it was all just a dream. He has truly woken up. Shirley embraces him in relieved happiness.
This was brilliantly done, the masterly phrasing of his words and their dual meaning. What Shirley heard was Ronnie saying that he has put his previous crush into perspective. That he and Yan have always been, and would always be good friends, nothing more. They will never do anything to tear his family apart. He has no more delusions of being with Yan and is fully committed to his family.
What Ronnie really meant was that he has sorted out the supposed memories from the mountaineering trip eighteen years ago. He remembers what good friends the four boys used to be. They were such good friends that their bonds can never be broken. They would never have been able to harm Ka-Meng, especially not that horribly. His nightmares were merely that, something he dreamt up. He no longer has doubts.
This was also really cruel, because just a few days later, Ronnie sees a teenage boy harassing his daughter. He pulls his daughter away but the boy refuses to leave, saying she called him for help when her father went nuts and now she wants to dump him. He then proceeds to blame Ronnie for creating all this trouble with his craziness.
Ronnie shoves him in anger and the boy stumbles onto a road, where an oncoming vehicle runs him down. Rushing to the boy’s side, Ronnie is horrified when a blood-covered hand reaches out to grab his arm. An image of an injured Ka-Meng grabbing his arm flashes through his mind.
At the hospital, Shirley hugs her crying daughter and deals with the boy’s distraught parents, while Ronnie quietly slips away. Calling Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo to their old band practice apartment, Ronnie tells them that all this time, no matter how ridiculous, he would always believe their words because he had always believed they were the best of friends.
But tonight he realised that they are strangers, that he does not even recognise himself. He is inhuman, none of them are human. He has clearly and completely remembered everything, so they cannot continue lying to him. Gu-Lo expresses confusion at what Ronnie is getting at. Ronnie says that he expected Hak-Zhai, not Gu-Lo, to be the first one to dispute his words.
Ronnie roars that he told them not to tell him any more lies. Hak-Zhai closes the door and quietly admits that they ate Ka-Meng. Whether they consumed him for ten or twenty days, none of them can remember, because they were just too hungry. Ronnie yells that he remembers. In his mind, the ordeal has only just begun.
Hak-Zhai says that whenever it happened does not matter, for if they had not done what they did, none of them would be alive. At that time, Ka-Meng had already died from his injuries, it was not up to them to choose. Ronnie gasps that Ka-Meng had not died yet. It was the three of them who killed him to eat him.
In the flashbacks, we see a tent. Inside is Ronnie, delirious with fever, leaning over a heavily injured Ka-Meng. As Ronnie plunges a knife into the prone body before him, Ka-Meng reaches out to grab his arm. Ronnie knifes him again. Blood splashes on the tent wall. Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo were outside when they notice the blood and rush into the tent.
Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo are horrified. Hak-Zhai refuses to believe his words, saying that Ronnie is taking revenge on them for lying to him. Ronnie cries that they did not know that Ka-Meng had grabbed his arm, so they were able to continue living a lie. But how can they continue to do now? How can Yan continue to do so?
Hak-Zhai is aghast, yelling that Yan had just make peace with Ka-Meng’s loss, how can he tell her something like this now. Gu-Lo says that it is not just about Yan, how can Ronnie let his family know. Ronnie states that Yan deserves to know how Ka-Meng died and his children will not want a liar for a father. He cannot lie to them forever and he never thought of lying to them forever.
Hak-Zhai slams Ronnie against the wall, but Gu-Lo pulls them apart, telling Ronnie that they did not mean to lie to him but he had lost his memory and they did not want him to suffer like they had. They only wished for everyone to be able to lead normal lives.
Ronnie says that the lives they led have not been normal. They have always been punishing themselves. Gu-Lo says that if none of them mention or think about this again, then it did not happen, they did not kill anyone, they did not eat anyone. They can start to try living normal lives. Ronnie says he called them there so that they can face the music together.
Hak-Zhai raises a heavy balance rod to Ronnie’s head and warns him not to say anything. The police bang on the door, shouting for them to open. Gu-Lo stands between the two men, but neither backs down. The banging on the door gets louder and Gu-Lo tells Ronnie that Gina is expecting. He begs Ronnie not to say anything just as the police crash through the door.
Gu-Lo and Gina have been together for over twenty years. In their youth, Gina had an abortion but the operation was botched and she had never been able to carry a child to term after that. Ronnie knows this and knows how much the couple had wanted a child after their marriage.
At the police station, Ronnie does not say a word. Gu-Lo goes home and tells Gina what really happened on the mountains eighteen years ago. He begs her to pretend that she is really pregnant, else Ronnie will turn them in to the police. Gina listens in shock. She retreats to their bedroom and locks the door.
Hak-Zhai returns to the practice band room and recalling what had just happened and what was said, he freaks out, screaming in anguish. The next day, Gina tells Gu-Lo that she will stand by him, she will say she is pregnant if anyone asks. Emma engages a renown barrister to defend Ronnie in his trial regarding the accident with his daughter’s boyfriend.
Gu-Lo and Hak-Zhai meet to discuss Ronnie’s defence in the trial. Hak-Zhai says that the truth will come out eventually, perhaps now really is the right time. Gu-Lo asks if the other man has amnesia too, because back in the hospital after Ronnie’s mugging, it was Hak-Zhai who told Gu-Lo to tell the first lie. Hak-Zhai says the one who has lost his memory is Gu-Lo, because it was Gu-Lo who told him to tell the first lie back in the mountain hospital eighteen years ago.
Hak-Zhai calls Yan, who is still upset with him about deceiving Emma. He says he will tell her what they were arguing about in the practice band room if she has dinner with him. She is dumbfounded when he brings her to her ex-husband’s restaurant. The staff there addresses him familiarly, but in an unfamiliar name.
He orders for Yan, saying that he knows she likes that dish because he helped Bowman come up with it. He is a regular patron of the restaurant, but under an assumed identity, and has been keeping tabs on Yan through a clueless Bowman. Incidentally, this was how he knew she had been insomniac after their divorce.
She wonders why he could not just have approached her directly. Did he fear that she still blamed them for Ka-Meng’s death? He says that was part of the reason. He believes she is too sharp not to realise the main impetus behind his actions. She cannot believe he is telling her such things now. He says he knows Yan needs him more as a friend than a lover.
She says he never had any intention of explaining what happened in the band practice room. His lies flow one after another. She cannot keep up with him. What kind of reaction was he expecting from her? He says he just wants her forgiveness.
Yan says she is not going to have, or to offer an opinion, on his confession. Not because she does not want a relationship, but because of Emma, a wife he had deceived so cruelly for money. She is incredulous that he chose to confess his feelings, asking her forgiveness, under these circumstances.
Hak-Zhai says that is not what he wants forgiveness for. He asks if Yan would say she forgives him, if he returns to Emma and tells her the truth about the assault. As long as she is willing to say she forgives him, he will do whatever she tells him to.
Yan states that saying the words is not that difficult, but only because she hopes that they are still good friends. Hak-Zhai says he understands what she means. A pregnant silence later, Yan says that she will forgive him. The peace that washes over his face is beautific.
Walking to their cars, Hak-Zhai expresses hope they will still be able to hang out like this in the future. Yan assures him that it is common for friends to hang out. As she drives away, along the winding narrow roads, Hak-Zhai follows her, a few cars back.
This was so beautifully filmed. As haunting vocals seep into the senses, we see Hak-Zhai and Yan, through wind shields and mirrors, through long sweeps of saturated reflections on glass, through disjointed slices of car windows. We realise that Hak-Zhai is aware it is only a matter of time before the truth comes out and hanging out as friends would not be so easy. This was his farewell dinner with her. Following her car, his final journey with her.
Meanwhile, in the police station, when Ronnie learns that the boy he shoved had passed away, he finally cracks, breaking his long silence. He admits to pushing the boy and to harming more than one boy. A senior police inspector (Hor) sits in on his confession, keenly interested.
Shortly after, both Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo are brought in by the police for questioning. Inspector Hor, splendidly portrayed by a droll Timothy Cheng (鄭子誠), goes to the radio station to find Yan. He gushes about being a fan of her show, asks for her autograph then smoothly says they need to talk about her boyfriend, Ka-Meng.
After being released from the police station, Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo stand outside Yan’s apartment building. Gu-Lo insists they can continue to maintain their story, that everyone thinks Ronnie is speaking nonsense to support an insanity plea. He says that they owe it to Ka-Meng to keep Yan from knowing the truth, even if it is impossible, they have to do it. That night, Yan goes to a rock concert and watches impassively as tears stream down her face.
Just a few days later, Inspector Hor approaches Yan again, with more bad news. Her mother, unable to endure her current husband’s infidelity and lies any longer, had just committed suicide. In the cemetery, she stands apart from the others paying their respects at the grave, quietly recording the sounds of the cemetery.
At their usual pub, Gu-Lo tells Hak-Zhai that he learnt guitar before but he switched to drums because he understood that no matter how unwilling, others must match his pace. He then says that Yan had called to meet at the pub and he pulled the other man along to face the confrontation together. Before Hak-Zhai can react, Yan walks in.
Gu-Lo proceeds to bluntly relate the gory events of Ka-Meng’s murder and consumption in great detail. Hak-Zhai and Yan listen in stunned silence. Yan cries for him to stop. He asks if what he just said sounds absurd, impossible to be true. If it does, it is because it is not true. Ka-Meng died trekking down the mountain alone, looking for help, that is the truth.
Yan gravely wipes the tears from her face and asks Hak-Zhai if he has anything to add. Caught off-guard, he hesitates before saying that they did not do what Ronnie said they did. Yan asks Gu-Lo if he remembers that Gina was upset he did not ask her why she had an affair, but only whether or not she had one. Yan says that she only came here to ask why. Why did they do what they did? Whether they did it or not, in her heart, she already knows. She leaves the two men without another word.
On the air, Yan talks about a group of soldiers stranded on an island. Though told not to eat the sacred cows on the island, once they had consumed every edible thing, they started eating the cows. Strangely, the supply of cows never seemed to deplete, there were always more to catch and eat. They have been eating their fellow soldiers, telling themselves they were only eating two-legged cows. None of the soldiers managed to leave the island, for no matter how they try to justify it, by harming others, there can only be one outcome.
Yan drinks to oblivion every night. Once on the road, she spots Gu-Lo’s vehicle and smashes the window. Meanwhile, Gu-Lo visits Brenda and tells her that he has a way to break up Hak-Zhai and Emma. In return, she has to stop interfering in Ronnie’s trial. He knows she had been working behind the scenes to damage his defence in order to thwart Hak-Zhai’s efforts at helping Ronnie.
Soon after, Ronnie is released, having won the trial. Gu-Lo drives him to Yan’s home. In his vehicle parked outside her apartment building, Gu-Lo tells Ronnie that if he intends to continue talking about the past, then he should have the decency to talk to Yan about it first, not some unrelated people, like the police. Ronnie pleads for Gu-Lo to drive him away.
Meanwhile, Brenda tells Emma she is willing to bury the hatchet with Hak-Zhai and asks her sister to arrange a conciliatory dinner. On his way to the dinner, Hak-Zhai receives a sms from Yan, asking him to meet her at their usual pub. Emma is frantic when Hak-Zhai does not turn up for the dinner and Brenda leaves in seeming disappointment. At the pub, Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo are surprised to see each other.
Brenda walks in and says that tonight was to test that Gu-Lo was telling the truth about Hak-Zhai’s feelings for Yan. She had gotten someone at the radio station to use Yan’s phone to send Hak-Zhai that message. She is surprised at his devotion to a woman, she did not think it was possible for a playboy like him.
Gu-Lo says that all Brenda had to do was tell Emma, she did not have to involve Yan. She says that Emma will not believe her. She tells Hak-Zhai that she will pay him to leave Emma. Before leaving, she warns Hak-Zhai that if he does not tell Emma the truth and break up with her, Yan might find herself in an unfortunate accident.
Later that night, Hak-Zhai tells Emma that what Ronnie said was true, they had killed and eaten their good friend. He told himself that if he was able to do that to his best friend, there is no need to care about other people’s feelings. Selfishness is the only way to survive. So he went around conning many people, many women. He lied to Jessica. He lied to Emma. Many, many times.
Her sister never colluded with him, it was all a scam he orchestrated in order to get his hands on her inheritance. He might have divorced her and gotten half her wealth, or maybe even killed her and taken everything. He does not know, he had not thought it through yet.
Emma is hysterical, crying that he loves her, he said so himself. He tells her that in his entire life, he had only ever truly loved one woman, and that woman is not her. He kisses her, hugs her, then leaves.
That night, Yan is dead drunk and unable to do her broadcast. Inspector Hor shows up again and spirits her away, while a colleague takes over her programme. He tells her that she cannot continue this way, she needs to find a resolution. He offers her a way.
A body was discovered two years ago. There was no way to identify it and the remains had been cremated. However, the autopsy report recorded knife wounds and included a photograph of a tattoo. He thinks it might be Ka-Meng. He asks Yan to make a trip down to the police station and see if she recognises the tattoo.
She wants to go right away, but he says she is too inebriated to give a credible statement. He will pick her up the next day from her home. On the way home, she notices that the lights in their old band practice apartment are on. She goes up and sees Hak-Zhai playing an electric guitar. He tells her he has rented this apartment.
Yan says that he has no right to be there, none of them do. He knows, but there are too many memories in this room that none of them can let go. Those belong to their old selves, Yan screams, they are no longer the youths they used to be, they do not even have the right to be human. They all deserve to be locked up.
Hak-Zhai says he deserves retribution and does not want to continue this lie. He knows he is not worthy, but he cannot forget the times they spent in this room. Yan says that they are not worthy to even think of the past. Even if they go to jail, repent and ascend to heaven, they cannot erase what they have done. He says they cannot let go of the past, but if they get their retribution, he begs Yan to stop torturing herself.
Yan grabs a smoothing knife and stabs him in the side, saying this is the only way she can let go. Hak-Zhai collapses in a growing pool of blood. Yan returns home in a frenzy and washes blood off her hands. She trips and falls, knocking into a toy that Ka-Meng had given her. As Ka-Meng’s recorded voice fills the apartment, she picks up the toy and smashes it, breaking down in anguished tears.
Paramedics rush Hak-Zhai to the hospital. Outside the emergency area, Inspector Hor tells an impassive Yan that she should not take matters into her own hands. Even if she maintains she happened by the apartment and saw an injured Hak-Zhai, the truth will be revealed once he comes round and the person to be brought to court, would be her.
As a police officer, he can tell a lot just from going through files and he understands the place the three men have in her heart. If he can understand, so can the judge. He asks her to go back to the police station with him and verify the tattoo. With that they can identify the remains and open a case file. With the facts of the case revealed, everyone will sympathise with her and he will plead with the judge on her behalf. Yan says there is no need for verification, for Ka-Meng did not have a tattoo.
The next day, a conscious Hak-Zhai collaborates Yan’s story that a robber had stabbed him and Yan, who had dropped by for a visit, saw him and called an ambulance. Ronnie and Gu-Lo visit Hak-Zhai in the hospital. Hak-Zhai says that Yan intended for him to die, she had left after the stabbing. It was only later that she returned and sent him to the hospital.
She had wanted to kill him, but she was also the one to save his life. He also tells them that the police had already found Ka-Meng’s body but has no way to identify it. He knows this means that not only did Yan save him, she chose not to verify it, because she still sees them as friends.
Gu-Lo says that there is no way they can rectify the past or for Ka-Meng to return. He believes that the only thing they can do, is to live meaningful lives and that Yan understands this. Hak-Zhai asks how Gu-Lo can hope that Yan has this understanding. Yan saved him because she could not bear to see him die, she had no choice, she could not even choose to take revenge.
She had no choice but to admit that they are still friends, she has no way to avenge Ka-Meng, she has no way out. When he woke up that morning, he wished that she had not saved him. She might have been able to move forward if he had died.
Gu-Lo says that she must have come to terms with the situation, that it was not worth taking his life and ending up in jail, because it would not bring Ka-Meng back. Ronnie cannot bear to hear any more and he moves to leave. Hak-Zhai apologises to Ronnie, who says that no one in this room has the right to hear those words.
Yan is planning to leave Hong Kong and on her last broadcast, she says that every night, knowing there are people tuning in, it holds the loneliness at bay. At every gathering, she would share the words in her heart, but lately, too many things have happened. Things she cannot endure. In 1992, something important happened, not the big events that people remember but something that has affected her even to this day. She wants to ask if anyone else had something important happen to them in 1992. If they share them with her, perhaps she would stop hiding in her world, feeling sad for herself.
Meanwhile, Gu-Lo loses the election. Brenda offers him Hak-Zhai’s old job, saying that she admires his cunning. He accepts. Ronnie resumes working as a financial consultant, while Hak-Zhai becomes a guitarist at the pub they frequent.
Two months later, Yan returns to Hong Kong. Her whole attitude has changed. She has become more irritable, cavalier and unyielding. She sleeps with Bowman, then casts him aside. She censures her father mercilessly. She falls out with her colleagues. She criticises Dr. Dylan’s efforts in organising the rock festival. And her radio show, her beautiful intimate broadcasts, have become interview sessions with prominent wealthy personages.
When her father makes heavy investment losses, both Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo step in to help him clear his debts. But it also made Gu-Lo worried that Hak-Zhai might return to finance and be a threat. When he accidentally runs into Ronnie, he brings him along to their usual haunt, the pub Hak-Zhai now plays at.
That same night, Yan walks into the pub. Hak-Zhai is playing the guitar and singing. He glances at her then looks away, continuing his performance without missing a beat. She stares at him a while, before turning towards the bar.
She stops in her tracks as she spots Gu-Lo and Ronnie sitting at a table near the stage. The two stare at her, then look away. She takes a seat at the bar and orders a drink. Hak-Zhai finishes his set. The three guys watch the performance on stage, while Yan watches them. Finally, Ronnie pays and leaves, not looking at anyone. Gu-Lo follows suit. Hak-Zhai packs up his guitar and leaves. Yan watches them go in consternation.
Gu-Lo intents to list the company on the stock exchange and approaches Ronnie for help. He says he needs someone he trusts at his side. He shows Ronnie the losses suffered by the father of the boy he shoved onto the road. He tells Ronnie he can handle the father’s debt any way he wants, if he agrees to help him bring the company public. Ronnie agrees.
Meanwhile, Brenda discovers that she has cancer and feeling lonely, propositions Gu-Lo, who eventually accepts, not wanting to lose favour with his boss. When Yan misunderstands Dr. Dylan, Hak-Zhai approaches her at the radio station and speaks up for the retired DJ.
She does not believe that he is doing this out of the goodness of his heart. He says that it is not Dr. Dylan’s mistakes while organising the rock festival that has her losing confidence in him. He knows the true culprits and the things they have done that have made her this way. He did not come here out of kindness or justice, he sought her out to explain because it is his responsibility.
Shortly after, Inspector Hor approaches her to help in a hostage situation. A woman recently released from prison has held her ex-husband under knife point for over ten hours. She was unresponsive to all their efforts at negotiation but had requested to meet Yan. The woman is also named Yip Chi Yan and had written a letter to her before, in response to her appeal to know about important things that happened to others in 1992.
Yan remembers her story. In 1992, devastated by her husband’s infidelity and abandonment, the woman tried to kill both herself and son, but she was the only one to survive and ended up in jail. She releases the man at Yan’s behest, but he had already been dead for many hours.
Back at the police station, the ex-convict says this was something she had to do. If she did not, things would never be resolved. This was something he owed her, something she owed her son, it was something she had no choice but to do. After stabbing the man, she felt relief, she does not regret it. She feels a camaraderie with Yan, not just because they share the same name, but because 1992 is important to both of them.
When she saw that her ex-husband had been living a good life, driving around in a car, owning a house, living with a new wife and son, she knew that he would never get his retribution. She could not just watch him and not do anything. She knows people will not understand, but she feels that Yan does.
Yan meets with Bowman and says that when she first heard the story, she also thought she understood the woman. But when the woman told her that she was relieved, Yan felt distant. She does not know if it was because she never understood her in the first place or because she could tell that the woman was deceiving herself.
After being released from jail, she could not trust anyone and as a result, no one was willing to be her friend. She had no way to move forward and thus believed that the only thing she could do was what she did. Bowman says that he is right there, he has always been there for her. Yan knows how he feels about her. But she also knows that after the divorce, he had been dating a waitress at his restaurant, someone he broke up with when he thought he had a chance to get back with Yan.
Knowing he still loved her, when Yan found out about him being with another woman, even though they were no longer married, she could not help but feel that he was cheating on her. Yan knows she can continue stringing him along forever, but she will not be happy and neither will he. The woman who really cares about him and has his best interests at heart is in the restaurant, typing up a resignation letter, a letter he should not accept. She apologises and leaves.
Brenda and Gu-Lo are on a date when they get into a horrific car accident. Emma awakens abruptly and runs downstairs in panic only to find her sister calmly sitting in the study. Brenda tells her that she now knows Emma was the one who got her priorities right, that there are more important things to life than business and money.
To be loved, to be someone’s most important person, that is what Emma has been trying to achieve all her life. Though there have been many setbacks, she had never given up on her dream. Brenda tells Emma that she is not silly to think this way, she just lacks a little judgement. From now on, Emma must choose a path she believes in, to become a person with no regrets. People must grow up but being smarter does not equate being better equipped to deal with life. Brenda has confidence that Emma will be able to achieve this.
The phone rings and Emma wakes for real. She rushes to the hospital. Gu-Lo is injured, but not fatally. Brenda, on the other hand, had already passed away.
On air, Yan muses about how as a city prospers, its night life becomes more lively. But no matter how long we spend in the bustling night, people always naturally turn towards the new dawn. This might be animal instinct but she believes it is something that people, regardless of individual personality, learn naturally in the school of life. Perhaps not everyone knows how to move forward, but every time the sun rises, it heralds a new day. This empowers us to tell ourselves not to mind the path we had taken, we can start anew. Even if the results are no longer possible to be ideal, at least we can be proud of the courage it took to make that first step.
Yan tries to make amends with her father and other people she had offended, with limited success. Inspector Hor shows up again, telling her that the police will require her to be a witness in the other Yip Chi Yan’s trial. She tells him that though she went back on her word before, he can be assured that she will take the stand this time.
Embarrassed at her candour, he follows her to her car, where she discovers she has a flat tire. He starts to help her change the tire, all the while lecturing her about being more careful about where she parks. Yan opens the car boot and pulls out the spare tire, intent on changing the tire herself. Even more embarrassed, the inspector asks her to trust that his words have no double meaning this time, he just wants to help.
Yan says it was because she could not trust others that she is in her current predicament. She should have been more careful, she was indifferent and careless about the potential problems and now it is her responsibility to fix her own mistakes. He accepts her explanation but still insists on helping her. Exasperated, she allows him to.
Yan patches things up with her colleagues and brings them to a vast empty lot. She asks them to imagine a stage and a huge audience. 36 hours, maybe even 72 hours, of non-stop performances. Bands from all over Asia, regardless of music genre, as long as they have the guts to play their own compositions, they will have the chance to perform on stage. This would be the place where dreams gather.
Dr. Dylan has left the country, so this is the only way she can make amends. She knows she cannot achieve this by herself. She has seen the ruin that strife can bring and knows that solidarity is a very powerful thing. They agree to help her with the rock festival.
Meanwhile, Ronnie discovers that Gu-Lo has been cooking the books in order to make the company look attractive enough to be listed. Gu-Lo tells Ronnie that his signature is on every document as well and is already implicated in the deception. He also warns him that he had set a trap for an unknowing Shirley. If Ronnie spills the beans, Shirley will be arrested for money laundering.
Shirley approaches Gina and begs her to talk to Gu-Lo, asking him to let them off. At home, Gu-Lo brushes off Gina’s concerns, saying that he is hard at work making money because she had always thought that as an mere social worker, he had not been a responsible breadwinner.
Gina looks for Yan at the radio station and Yan brings her to her usual dessert shop to talk. Gina asks Yan to talk to Gu-Lo, as she cannot think of anyone else who has the ability to persuade him. Yan says that he might not be able to raise his head in her presence, but that does not mean he will do as she says. If he can get pass his own conscience and live with his actions, then her words would carry little weight. She does not have it in her power to help Gina. She apologises for the wasted trip.
Their dessert arrives and Gina watches Yan sprinkle brown sugar on bean curd served in a wooden basket, then systematically slice through the curd with her spoon. As Yan eats her dessert, Gina looks at the other woman in sombre realisation. For Gu-Lo had brought her to the same dessert shop, ordered the same dessert and prepared it the same way as Yan.
Gina returns to the hospital where she sees the body of a young woman, an activist who used to work with Gu-Lo and who he had an affair with. At home, a despairing Gina tells Gu-Lo about the woman’s suicide. Gu-Lo is indifferent and says that if she wants to blame anyone, she should blame herself for asking him to break off the affair.
Ronnie is grimly going through the accounts when he notices Gu-Lo entering his own office. Gu-Lo goes through the many messages he had ignored. As he reads the last message that says she will not bother him any longer, Gu-Lo breaks down and sobs wretchedly. Ronnie looks on in pained silence.
At the site of the upcoming rock festival, Yan spots Inspector Hor prancing about on the stage. He was in the vicinity working on a homicide and dropped by to look around. He says that in his line of work, he encounters many gruesome and disheartening things. But when he tunes into her show and hears the cheerful, serene sounds she records from around the city, it reminds him that Hong Kong is not a dead city. He sleeps more soundly after listening to her programme.
Yan says that by not cooperating that time in the hospital, did he not think she was condoning the evil committed by evil men. He says that as a policeman, he cannot condone her decision but he read a report about a bear eating its own children. It made him think that people are willing to accept that animals can be driven to extreme deeds in extreme circumstances, but would they be as accepting towards humans?
So as her fan, he understands her decision. His phone rings and he rushes back to work, but not before wishing her a successful festival and promising to drop by if he can find the time.
Meanwhile, Hak-Zhai has been quietly undermining Gu-Lo’s efforts to list Emma’s company on the stock exchange. He works his charm on Emma’s friends and even makes Jessica sleep with another man in order to make trouble for Gu-Lo. When Ronnie’s son goes missing for a few hours, Gu-Lo calls both Ronnie and Hak-Zhai out for dinner. He exposes Hak-Zhai as the mastermind behind the boy’s disappearance.
Ronnie remains silent as the other two calmly trade insults and accusations. Dinner is served and Ronnie digs heartily into his meat. Gu-Lo and Hak-Zhai fall silent as they watch him eat. Ronnie muses that one employs traps to prey on clients, the other exploits weaknesses to prey on friends.
He says that Emma and Brenda, with their huge inheritance, were just too tempting let go. He urges them to eat, saying that since that time on the mountains, after they had eaten Ka-Meng, all three of them were destined to live off other people for the rest of their lives. The other two start eating as well. The next scene finds the three men on a balcony undergoing renovation, puking their guts out.
Ronnie says that the good thing about going blind is that he would not have to see the other two and how wretched they look right now. Gu-Lo says that he might still see them even in the darkness. Ronnie says he will choose to see their former selves, as they were during a performance. He starts humming the tune that Ka-Meng composed.
Hak-Zhai makes up lyrics to accompany the melody:
“A pity that living is a pile of defeats, a pity that life calls for compromise.”
Gu-Lo chimes in with:
“If…if we can choose our fate, every step past the crossroad can be taken with better grace.”
“If we can live honestly, the values we treasured need not suffer the ravages of time.”
“The bliss of youth, the bliss of running wild.
Discontented within a feudal system, irrational belief that taking to the streets will make everything…”
Ronnie interrupts with:
“…irrational belief that by taking to the streets, truth will triumph.”
“A flag raises high, lifted by outraged voices of the masses…”
Hak-Zhai takes a brush and a pail of red paint that renovation workers left behind. He starts painting words on a wall. The other two join in and they take turns painting as the actual song composed by Paul Wong (黃貫中) of Beyond fame, plays in the background.
When the lyrics are completed, they stand back and stare at the columns of Chinese characters running across the wall. Ronnie wonders why they were unable to pen the lyrics to the song all those years ago.
Because we disbanded, says Hak-Zhai, just like how they are now, every man for himself. Gu-Lo concurs, saying that is the only thing they can collaborate on, a song. He leaves, followed by Hak-Zhai. Ronnie stares at their retreating forms, then back at the wall.
Back home, Ronnie tells Shirley they ate together, drank together and wrote a song together. He says neither Gu-Lo nor Hak-Zhai has any friends, so no matter how vile they become, they still wish for someone they trust to be by their side. That person is him.
Perhaps people should not differentiate so clearly between black and white, perhaps that is how people are meant to live. What he cannot bear is that he has no chance to see how all of them could have turned out if Ka-Meng was still with them.
As Gu-Lo and Hak-Zhai continue their schemes, a major sponsor shuts down the rock festival, citing fears of viral contagion. As Yan stand on an empty stage with tears in her eyes, we see from flashbacks that the dream of attending a rock festival in the mountains was Ka-Meng’s.
While meeting with bands and other organisers to inform them of the sudden cancellation, Yan learns that Dr. Dylan has returned to Hong Kong, but had injured his leg and is hospitalised. Yan visits him and learns that he is suffering from the initial stages of senility.
She apologises to him but he says he knows she did her best for the rock festival, besides, he will soon forget everything. Yan says he cannot forget how she had wronged him, she does not want to lose even the chance to apologise. He says that he does not regret not remembering unhappy events. People should not always be looking behind.
Yan quotes his previous saying, “Man has no future if he has no past.” But Dr. Dylan says that it is not good if one has no hope for the future and can only talk of the past. Like how he did not find the current music scene in Hong Kong to his liking and so could only talk about past music. But after talking, he felt like crying. That is no way to live.
When the doctor told him of his condition, he did not feel deprived. Even if he forgets everything, even if he forgets the great bands of his past, as long as there is real music to be found the next day, he would be happy. He tells her that memories are meant for reminisce, not for escape.
Gu-Lo, Hak-Zhai and Ronnie sit round a table in their regular pub, waiting for Yan. All three turn towards the bar when she enters and orders a bottle of whiskey. She gives them an easy smile and walks over. Taking a seat at their table, she tells them that tonight is the pub’s last night of operations.
Ronnie states that the place is finally closing. She says this is also the last night that the band on stage is playing together. Hak-Zhai expresses surprise, they did not mention it to him even though he used to perform with them. She says that perhaps they did not want to talk about sad subjects.
A bottle of whiskey and four glasses are delivered to the table. Yan pours a finger of whiskey into each glass and tells Gu-Lo that he is the only one who has not dared to speak to her yet. He says he will speak up when the topic concerns him, or is it that this is already a topic he should contribute to.
She says that she called them out, not to talk about whatever is going on between the three of them, but rather to talk about her own issues. Throughout the past eighteen years, she had always wanted to do one thing, to be a carefree person. At times she succeeded, other times she did not. Sometimes, drinking would help.
But later she realised that having friends by her side was the key to success. People have history, they have burdens. Only a person with a past can have a future. But the most important thing is to not let past events shackle your legs, that is the true test. Learning for so long, this was the lesson she has been trying to master.
She pauses, then states that she does not want to continue blaming them for what had happened to Ka-Meng. The three men look up in surprise, up till now they had been listening in stony silence. Yan says that she does not mean avoiding them or treating them as strangers, she wants them all to be friends again.
She wants them to give her a chance to forgive the past, to forgive them, to forgive herself. She understands that in order to survive, her friends, under extreme circumstances, were forced to hurt someone they had no intention of hurting. But she really does not want to see her friends doing the same thing merely out of self-interest.
She picks up a glass of whiskey and says that after she started abstaining from alcohol, she told herself that the next time she drank, it must be over something really worth celebrating. The three guys watch as she drains the glass.
Yan puts down the empty glass and tells them that she truly hopes to see them perform on stage as a band again, because that was when she truly understood them. She says that the whiskey is her treat and asks them to take their time. She leaves without a backward glance.
After staring at the glasses for a while, Ronnie picks one up and downs it. He grabs his briefcase and coat and leaves. Hak-Zhai takes a glass and drinks the whiskey. He sets down an empty glass and leaves. Gu-Lo stares at the remaining glass, picks it up and grudgingly drains it.
When Ronnie returns home, Inspector Hor is waiting for him. Shirley had turned herself in. Ronnie decides to testify against Gu-Lo to save her. The next day, the police bring Gu-Lo in for questioning.
Hak-Zhai is too late to prevent his co-conspirators from scheming against Gu-Lo, who ends up losing Emma’s trust. He orders a hit on Hak-Zhai. On the brink of responding to Yan’s overture, the three allow outside factors to upset their possible reconciliation.
Meanwhile, her colleagues are aghast at Yan’s resignation. She feels she has done everything she can do in Hong Kong, she does not want to imagine how its music scene will turn out in the future.
Gu-Lo goes to see his mentor, who is on a hunger protest. His mentor says that it is never too late to turn back and makes a bet with him. If he can fast for 72 hours, then Gu-Lo must keep his promise and become a good man again.
Yan sits alone on the empty festival stage, staring at the printed words, “Keep on Rock and Roll”. A couple approaches her and ask if the show’s timing had changed. They are dismayed to learn of the cancellation. To Yan’s surprise, more and more people start streaming onto the venue.
While having dinner, Ronnie’s daughter receives a call from her friend, telling her that the rock festival is still on. They tune in to Yan’s radio station channel and hear a live broadcast that Yan is conducting, through her cell phone at the site of the cancelled show.
She says that when everyone laments about the marginalisation of this city, we feel despondent and sad, but perhaps we only feel marginalised while confined within a conventional point of view. Why can we not each have a different set of values we abide by? Why can we not have separate individual ways of resolving and gleaning meaning from life?
Yan had spoken to many in the crowd before her, some came because they were not aware of the cancellation, some just to join in the fun, but many many more came because they could not abide it. They could not abide that an independent music event was cancelled because of an unrelated commercial consideration. They could not abide that in a city with seven million people, cultural sensitivity can be so meager. They could not abide having to admit to being conformists.
Meanwhile, Gu-Lo is holding an emergency meeting and calls the managers under him back into the office. He is startled to learn that many of them are stuck in traffic due to a huge crowd at the site of the rock show.
Yan continues by proposing to the police, the citizens and the media, that there is no need to reproach their gathering, for each person here pursuing and supporting independent music represents a separate, different and individual way of living. This is not discordant behaviour, for harmony is not a hundred people saying the same words, but one hundred people with a hundred different opinions, still able to respect each other.
Hak-Zhai is at a music store and overhears the staff there talking about the crowd gathered at the site of the cancelled festival. The store attendant says there is no point, there are no performers and all the instruments and audio equipment have been removed, leaving only an empty stage.
Yan ends her broadcast by saying that she is honoured to be with so many friends, all standing vigil at this stage that would not see another performance. Ronnie is standing in the crowd, catching the tail end of her speech. He overhears a few police officers saying that though a permit has been obtained for the show, if there are no performances, then the crowd will have to be dispersed.
A container truck enters the site and Hak-Zhai jumps out, calling for people to help out. He opens the container doors and people rush forward to unload and carry instruments and audio equipment up the stage. Yan puts down her phone in surprise and beams at a pleased Hak-Zhai.
Ronnie, carrying a couple of instruments, stops in front of Hak-Zhai. They exchange smiles. Yan approaches them and Hak-Zhai asks her to call the performers, some might still be able to turn up. She thanks them but reckons that it is already too late.
Drumming explodes on the stage and they turn to see Gu-Lo sitting behind a set of drums, doing a warm up set. Yan runs behind the stage and plugs in a cable, turning on the stage lights. As the others run up the stage with their instruments, Yan stands amid the screaming crowd, face alight with joy.
Back at her radio station, one of her colleagues have locked himself in a broadcasting room. He says that the rock festival is still on and they will do their utmost to see that the performances on stage take-off, to not disappoint the people any longer.
The radio station manager bangs on the locked door, shouting for him to stop. He says that the banging they hear is the sound of authorities approaching and what they fear the most is for individuals to have their own way of thinking, their own beliefs. The spirit of rock and roll is the spirit of independence. Each one of us are our own masters. Every one of us has the right to choose our own paths. So even if the show tonight is illegal, they will not surrender. Rock and roll never die!
On stage, they play the starting strains of Ka-Meng’s composition, actually Paul Wong’s (黃貫中) song “Oblivion of Youth” (年少无知), as Gu-Lo sings:
“The bliss of youth, the bliss of running wild.
Discontented within a feudal system, irrational belief that by taking to the streets, truth will triumph.
A flag raises high, lifted by outraged voices of the masses.
Sacrificing everything to appeal, to repeal the conventional judgement of those in authority.
A pity that living is a pile of defeats, a pity that life calls for compromise.”
Making their way through the crowd, Gina gazes happily at Gu-Lo singing and tells her ex-lover that she almost did not recognise him.
Hak-Zhai croons the second verse:
“The bliss of youth, the bliss of poverty.
Happy with just one dollar in reserve, easing tempers with just a cheap guitar.
Wealth is gained, but the years slip away.
Contributing without minding the pay-off, the world is bound to have disparity.
A pity that living is the roar of frustration, a pity that life is the sigh of apologies, fearing reprisal.”
Jessica stands in the crowd, watching him with a sad smile. Emma stares at him in pained wonder. She starts to sway with the crowd, slowly losing her frown, as all three sing the chorus:
“If we can choose our fate, every step past the crossroad can be taken with better grace.
If we can live honestly, the values we treasured need not suffer the ravages of time.”
Yan is on the controls platform, happily swaying and singing along with them. Her radio station manager pushes through the crowd, wanting to stop the performance. Another colleague grabs him and asks him to look at how happy the crowd is. Can he account to them? Can he account to himself?
Bowman and his girlfriend walk through the crowd in wonderment. Arthur, Yan’s ex-lover, also arrives, gazing up the stage in delight.
Ronnie picks up the third verse:
“The bliss of youth, the bliss of friends.
A disagreement warrants no defendant, friendly rivalry warrants no hard feelings.
Growing up, the advancing years unable to be recovered.
The poetry of youth ages, the passage of time frightens.”
Ronnie’s family laugh and shout, waving their arms in the air and cheering him on. Inspector Hor and his team arrives to ensure that their witness has not run away. He says there are so many cops around, there is no need to worry, implying that is no need to interrupt the performance.
Dr. Dylan, having been smuggled out of the hospital by her colleagues, approaches Yan on the control platform. He says that he recognises this band. They are short of one person but he remembers them. A teenage Yan turns to him and states that no one is missing, they are still the same as before.
On stage, we see the three men singing and playing alongside their younger selves. The teenage Ka-Meng is also with them, playing his guitar and singing the chorus together:
“If we can choose our fate, every step past the crossroad need not be uncertain.
If we can live honestly, the values we treasured will still hold true today.
If we can rehearse our lives, our reality need not include a life of cruel choices at every step.
If we guarded our past ideals, would I still be vulnerable to the blind censure of the world?”
Dawn breaks and we hear on the radio that many complaints regarding the festival were received. Recording her last broadcast, Yan asks Dr. Dylan to end the show by answering a question, “What is music?” He says that the first piece of music a person encounters, is the heartbeat heard while still within the womb. So to him, music is life.
After the recording, Dr. Dylan asks Yan if she is really leaving Hong Kong. She jokingly says that she sold everything already, she has no choice. He asks where she is going. She does not know, perhaps she will hop on the first plane leaving the airport. He heartily agrees. She asks him to pick the last song to be played on the programme. He asks her to play the song performed by her friends that night of the festival.
Gu-Lo visits his mentor, who had just been released from hospital after collapsing partway through his hunger protest. His mentor says that Gu-Lo does not appear to enjoy his new life, sometimes he wonders if it really is that difficult for him to be a good man again. Gu-Lo says that this city does not welcome good men.
His mentor says it is not others’ opinions that matter, but that he is able to account to himself. Gu-Lo says that perhaps he cannot bear to lose everything like this. His mentor asks him what he hopes to win by continuing this way. Gu-Lo cannot answer.
Emma meets Hak-Zhai and asks if it is impossible between them. He tells her of his first attempt to form a band. He booked a room but waited in vain as the others failed to turn up due to a typhoon. Wandering out on the stormy streets alone, miserably pondering why he wanted a band, he mindlessly followed whoever he happened to see on the street.
He spotted a girl in a school uniform, buffeted by the winds. He lent her his coat and accompanied her the rest of the night, riding out the rough weather together. That girl was Yan. Since that night, he knew that he would never be able to truly be with another girl.
Emma hands him an expensive electric guitar and asks him to accept it. He does. She asks if he does not think it is a shame to only love one person his entire life. He chuckles and asks her what her own answer to the question would be. She looks at him sadly.
Gu-Lo enters the jewellery store that Shirley owns. She quickly recovers from her surprise and shows him a lovely necklace when he says he wants to buy Gina a wedding anniversary present. As she processes his payment, he asks after her son’s welfare. She hesitates before saying that he is fine. He takes the wrapped present and looks at it with a smile. Before leaving, he apologises to Shirley, saying that towards her, towards Ronnie, he is truly sorry.
On the way back to his car, Gu-Lo cancels the hit on Hak-Zhai. He spots a vehicle heading straight for a little boy and pushes the kid out of the way, getting hit instead and thrown down a flight of stairs. He slams his head against a pole.
A stray dog watches him as he lies there in a pool of his own blood. He recognises it as the one he saw abandoned and wounded on the night that Brenda had propositioned him. Associating himself with the dog and not wanting to be similarly treated, he accepted Brenda’s offer. Now he sees the same dog, hale and unscathed.
With his recent attempts at making amends, with his selfless act, he manages to catch a glimpse of a nobler and undamaged version of himself. Perhaps he has attained absolution. He pulls out the gift prepared for Gina, but soon loses consciousness.
At their apartment, Shirley tells Ronnie that he might be right about Gu-Lo still having a conscience. She is afraid that telling might cause him to have second thoughts about testifying against Gu-Lo. Ronnie asks why she told him then. She says it is because she does not want him to feel that friends will always disappoint him.
Ronnie says that everyone has things that they wish to accomplish and that every action has a reason behind it. This reason might not be something that the people around them would be willing to accept. If they choose to live up to others’ expectations, or to be able to account to themselves, they might be able to remain friends but they will lose their own selves.
On the stage that night, he believes that they managed to find themselves. Banding together was cohesiveness, but also partly due to luck. Even if they could not follow the same beat, he would not think of it as failure. He will learn to respect them and he hopes they will respect his actions in court. He does not have second thoughts about testifying.
He accidentally cuts his finger and says they should turn on the light. Night is coming faster than he expected. Shirley looks around at the room flooded with sunlight and embraces him in sorrow.
Inspector Hor brings Hak-Zhai in for questioning but releases him when renown barristers are sent to defend him. The inspector asks Hak-Zhai if he feels very lucky. Eighteen years ago, all three of them should have died in the mountains but they did something inhuman, swapping one life for three. The other two, one is going to be incarcerated, the other have lost all credibility and eventually, his sight as well.
As for Hak-Zhai, he parted amicably with his ex-wife and has a silent backer. Everyone else has their retribution, but not him. Hak-Zhai asks how the other knows he has not had his retribution. He thanks the inspector and leaves.
Yan is riding in a cab when it stops abruptly. She stares as a teenage girl apologises to the cab driver and four youths hurry across the road carrying a mattress. It is a scene right out of the flashbacks, when the five of them would carry and line the windows and walls of the practice band room with mattresses, a cheap way to soundproof the room.
Getting out of the cab , she follows them to the apartment building that housed their old band practice room. She overhears Hak-Zhai telling the teenagers that they can use the apartment for a year, without paying rent, as long as they are really using it for band practice. They run out to celebrate, almost running into Yan.
She asks if their band is any good. He does not know, the realtor introduced them and he was impressed there were still youngsters wanting to form bands. He thinks that having to worry about rent and growing up so fast is not necessarily a good thing. Besides, using the apartment as a band practice room is better than turning it into a factory space.
Yan thanks him for the other night. He says he did not do it for her. She knows, she is thanking him for letting her see friends whom she had not seen in a long time. He says that it only for that night, everything changed back once the sun rose. Not if their hearts do not change, she replies. He says that no matter how much one’s heart wishes it were not true, it would not change anything.
Like how she was unable to stop them from disbanding, Yan says, now she is also unable to make them change anything. He says that it is not that they do not want to change, but that it would be better to have started earlier. She understands and asks him to promise her that he would, on occasion, pick up a guitar, think about what he used to like. He agrees.
Looking at her wistfully, Hak-Zhai asks if it is possible in the future for her to drop by unexpectedly, or to arrange for a meeting. She says that they are all her good friends, but she will not appear before them again. He nods and says that he expected it, this is his retribution. She asks him not to make it sound so cruel, it is just that they have grown up. Yes, agrees Hak-Zhai, they are all grown up.
When Gina reports for duty at the hospital, she finds a team working to revive Gu-Lo, with no success. She clutches her anniversary gift and stares blankly into space. A distraught couple approaches her and says that her husband died saving their son. The father bends down and tells a small boy to apologise to Gina. The boy’s name is Ka-Meng. Gina hugs the boy and sobs, asking him to promise her that he will grow up to be a good man.
Yan visits Ka-Meng at the columbarium and smiles happily as she gazes at the plague with his name and picture. She takes a cab to the airport but it breaks down along a hilly road. As she walks towards a nearby bus stop, she spots a tent covering a phone switch post.
Come out, she calls. Ka-Meng lifts a tent flap and walks out. She tells him that he should not have such little confidence in the other three, none of them wanted to leave the stage. No matter how much life pressures them, they still remember their love for music, they still have ideals.
Ka-Meng says he never thought they wanted to give up their dreams, on the contrary, he thinks that their future paths are boundless. So he feels that they no longer need to be tied to a band in order to live their lives. Now her teenage self, Yan says that the band was on the brink of breaking up because they could not find a lead vocal. She helped them find him and it is because of him that they were able to remain together.
She says that it was because he suggested they disband that they are separating. He says that they have not split up, they are all still good friends. She denies it, saying that if they no longer practice as a band, they will spend all their time earning a living, they will change. Why is it that when people grow up, they have so many compromises, so many worries, so many reasons to justify reality?
Music is simply music, says Yan. Even if no one appreciates them, even if they do not cut records, even if they never amount to anything, as long as they can be themselves, they can still excel in life. Going to the mountains to watch a rock festival is just to fulfil a last obligation, to go their separate ways with more equanimity. Why can they not choose to persevere?
As she walks away in tears, Ka-Meng calls after her. Finally he shouts that if she does not leave, he will not go to the mountains. She continues walking away and the present-day Yan tells her younger self, with increasing urgency, to turn back, turn back now.
The teenage Yan stops and turns. Present-day Yan breaks into a beautific smile. The two youngsters run towards each other and happily embrace. Her smile turning wistful, present-day Yan continues walking along the hill road, now empty of tent or teenagers.
Yan narrates that in life, we make countless decisions and we will ask ourselves, what if? What if I had made a different choice, would I still be the same person? As she narrates, we catch a glimpse of how they would have turned out if different choices were made.
As their youthful selves:
Gu-Lo walks Gina down the aisle. Yan graduates and at the photo-taking ceremony, we see that Gina is many months pregnant. Hak-Zhai, now sporting short hair, works in a music store, writing music in his spare time. Pushing a stroller with a baby in it, Gu-Lo (also with short hair) almost tumbles down the stairs when he spots a couple of young musicians playing on the street. Gina saves both husband and child and scolds him soundly.
Ronnie goes for an eye examination and finds out about his condition. Dismounting from their scooter, Ka-Meng and Yan take shelter from the rain under a bridge, looking on enviously as a young couple drives off in a fancy sports car. Yan hugs him in silent encouragement. A deeply conflicted Hak-Zhai throws his guitar away. Ronnie hurries along a busy street, clad in a spiffy suit and speaking into a huge old-school cellular phone.
In a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie, Gu-Lo changes the tire of his car. As he takes out a spare tire, we see a pair of drumsticks tucked away in his car boot. Ka-Meng and Yan cover the drum set on the rooftop where they used to practice before renting the apartment.
As their older selves:
Ronnie, with his wife and two kids, are chauffeured into a luxurious residence in an expensive car. Hak-Zhai, clean-shaven and wearing rimless glasses, is jamming with a youth in the music store. Gu-Lo, still in shirt and tie, is eating from a styrofoam box along a busy street, all the while reading a report and listening to his earpiece.
On the back of a rock and roll compact disc case is a postcard with the words “We are still on the road pursuing music, what about you guys? Signed Meng and Yan.” In a richly appointed office, Ronnie smiles as he gently handles the case and turns it over to read the words. Hak-Zhai is at a restaurant with his girlfriend, but is holding the case under the table and staring at it instead of paying attention to her.
Gu-Lo, now in a suit, looks at the case and stops walking, he slowly turns and walks in the opposite direction. Hak-Zhai is watching a big-screen news report at a road junction and is run into by an elegant Jessica, who gives him a sharp look before hurrying away. Gu-Lo visits his wife in the hospital. Gina is wearing a surgical mask and they can only see each other through a glass window.
Ronnie and Shirley watches as their expensive car is towed away and we see their whole family moving to a poorer neighbourhood. Gu-Lo is at the hospital again, wearing a mask too, he attentively pushes Gina around in a wheelchair. Hak-Zhai proposes, but his girlfriend throws his flowers and ring back, leaving in a huff.
On a familiar rooftop, the tarp covering the drums set is thrown back. Ka-Meng and Yan ride into the city on a scooter. Gu-Lo runs through the streets, he brushes aside the appeal of worker activists. Hak-Zhai runs across the road, causing a wedding car containing Emma and her groom to stop abruptly. Apologising, Hak-Zhai runs off while Emma looks after him searchingly.
Gu-Lo arrives on the rooftop to see Ronnie already tuning his bass. Hak-Zhai arrives and they are already jamming when Yan reaches the rooftop. Ka-Meng walks up behind her and all three put down their instruments to welcome and embrace the couple.
The ending shot is of Yan in a snowy mountain, holding her boom microphone. We hear her voice saying that different decisions result in different roads, but she believes that they would all meet at the same end point. She believes.
This was a show steeped in metaphors and symbols. The big question that loomed early in the show was – how does one move on after doing something beyond the pale? For a large part of the series, the answer was – one could not move on.
Hak-Zhai and Gu-Lo were increasingly engaged in a vicious spiral of deceit and malice, while Ronnie was slowly drawn into progressively murky waters. They could not pull themselves out of the quagmire of mutual destruction.
Cannibalism is a stark analogy for our dog eat dog world, where survival of the fittest is an accepted way of life. Where does one draw the line? Aborting a baby out of fear of commitment? Betraying friends to earn a living? Lying to family to avoid imprisonment?
It is curious that for a show with such a bleak premise, the overriding emotion I was engulfed in after finishing the series was hope. When Dr. Dylan said that to him, music is life, I remembered Yan running around the country with her boom microphone. I then realised that she was recording the heartbeat of the city, proving to herself and her listeners that the city was not dying, it was still very much alive.
Rock and roll in particular, represented independent thought and action. In that last segment of their alternate life, when Ka-Meng (an aged Stanley Cheung – 張景淳) appeared on the rooftop behind Yan, I was stuck by unexpected poignancy. For what Yan said to him that last time at the tent was true.
Yan said that the band was on the verge of breaking up until she introduced him to the other three. He was the one who kept the band together, the one who kept them as friends, the one who kept their love for music alive. Though it might seem that way at times, it was not Yan, but rather Ka-Meng that banded them together.
For Ka-Meng was the embodiment of dreams and ideals. He was even working as a telephone operator, literally connecting people to each other. When they destroyed him in a bid for survival, it was symbolic of how we all bury our youthful aspirations in our rush to earn a living. Throughout the show, it was Ka-Meng’s song, his legacy to the world, that brought the friends together, again and again.
Perhaps we can also tell ourselves that one song is enough to recapture our dreams. That one thought is enough to change our lives. That one action is enough to start paving a new road for ourselves and the people around us.
One person cannot hope to change the world alone. But one person can influence another, who will in turn influence others, until it spreads like a contagious virus, much like the one the corporate sponsor was trying to prevent by shutting down the rock festival.
When she could not trust anyone, Yan and all her endeavours fell to pieces. But when she learnt to forgive her friends for something so taboo, so uncomfortable to even contemplate, much less accept, she broke out of the conventional mould of societal expectations.
After regaining her trust and faith in the people and world around her, Yan, with her compelling charisma and intensity, managed to move the people around her until everyone was working in concert to launch a rock festival in Hong Kong.
Yan also learnt to forgive herself for not turning back and stopping Ka-Meng from leaving, to forgive herself for not avenging him, choosing to believe that all roads lead to the same destination. In this show at least, we see it come true.
In the alternate life, when we see them all on the rooftop playing as a band again, it is reminiscent of the night of the rock festival, where Ka-Meng joined them on stage in spirit. A rock festival that was only possible because Yan decided not to do the conventional thing, to instead follow her heart, her own independent way of thinking.
Going against convention was also most noticeable in the quirky Inspector Hor, an archetypal authority figure with a most unorthodox approach to work and to life. A discerning man, Inspector Hor disrupted people’s lives but was considerate and open-minded in his dealings. Impartial yet compassionate, he was the personification of benevolent justice, a person we hope to be the one in power, the one with authority.
If we can trust the authorities, if we can trust our friends, if we can trust our families, if we can trust ourselves, then we will always have music in our hearts. Rock and roll never die.