After the success of her 2019 thriller The Whistleblower, writer/ director Xiaolu Xue returns with the poignant and emotionally charged opus Embrace Again, a chronicle of the Chinese metropolis Wuhan as it faces a sudden and harsh lock-down in January of 2020 in order to control the rapid spread of the emerging COVID-19 outbreak. However, as we’ve often seen within the handful of Pandemic films that have emerged in the west, Embrace Againdoesn’t lean into any of the usual conspiracy driven, dystopian thriller tropes, instead Xue has crafted a series of interconnected stories that not only humanise the chaos faced by the city of Wuhan, but the very real fear, resilience and charity of everyday people caught up in the chaos of their ailing city.
Borrowing a narrative style similar to the popular interconnected anthology films of the 2000’s such as Paris, Je T’aim, Tokyo and yes, even the vapid Valentine’s Day, Embrace Again has four primary storylines running through its two-hour plus stretch, including a beautifully effecting romance between an elderly paediatrician (Wu Yanshu) and a lonely chef (Benz Hui); an odd-couple friendship with a vivacious delivery driver (Jia Ling) and an academic shut-in (Zhu Yilong); an immature father (Huang Bo) forced to live in his car to protect his wife and son from exposure and a middle-age married couple (Xu Fan and Gao Yalin) who reconnect as their travel agency is shuttered under the city-wide lockdown.
Utilising her impressive cast, which also includes A-Listers Zhou Dongyu (Under the Hawthorn Tree) and Liu Haoran (Detective Chinatown), Xue has crafted a tender love letter, which unashamedly delivers a heart-felt thank you to the people and city of Wuhan. Her ability to strip the film of any politicisation without glossing over the seriousness of the reality will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows, but Xue’s intention is immediately apparent, with Embrace Again championing unity over division, and hope over fear. The film remains firmly unapologetic from first frame to last in celebrating the humanity and compassion, and yes, the sacrifices and grief of Wuhan’s people against an invisible and undefined threat.
And while the film does lean into some melodramatic and overtly sentimental distractions, no thanks to an impressive if emotionally manipulative score from composer Peter Kam, Embrace Again is an emotional roller-coaster that offers a little light against the dark curtain of division that we see so often embraced.