A Light Never Goes Out

Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema

In Competition for the White Mulberry Award for First Time Director

A Light Never Goes Out

燈火闌珊 (Deng Fo Lan Shan)

Hong Kong, 2022, 103’, Cantonese
Directed by: Anastasia Tsang
Screenplay: Anastasia Tsang, Tsoi So-man
Photography (color): Leung Ming-kai
Editing: Nose Chan
Production Design: Alex Mok
Music: Lam Kwan-fai, Julian Chan
Producer: Saville Chan
Cast: Sylvia Chang (Heung), Simon Yam (Bill), Henick Chou (Leo), Cecilia Choi (Prism), Shing Mak (Roy), Alma Kwok (Young Heung), Jacky Tong (Young Bill), Ben Yuen (Master Wong), Mimi Kung (Millie) 

Date of First Release in Territory: April 13th, 2023 


In Chinese culture, a shop’s sign is everything. If the sign of a shop goes down, so too does the shop. During Hong Kong’s most prosperous era, thousands of neon shop signs hung above the streets, becoming an indispensable icon of the city to the world. However, the government enacted a law banning unauthorised neon signs in 2013, citing safety concerns. Shops that couldn’t afford to adhere to the updated safety code had to remove their signs, and authorities deterred shops from erecting new neon signs by putting in layers of government red tape and approval processes. As a result, the number of neon sign craftsmen has dwindled drastically as demand plummeted. Even the remaining neon signs in the city are now being slowly replaced with energy-saving LED signboards. 
Made under the Hong Kong government’s much-lauded First Feature Film Initiative scheme, A Light Never Goes Out sees writer-director Anastasia Tsang paying tribute to these disappearing icons of Hong Kong. The legendary Sylvia Chang stars as Heung, the widow of former neon sign maker Bill (Simon Yam). After his passing, she discovers that not only did her late husband secretly revive his neon sign business; he had even taken in unemployed young man Leo (Henrick Chou) as an apprentice to carry on the tradition. When Leo claims that Bill was trying to rebuild one of his old signs before his death, Heung decides to fulfil Bill’s dying wish by rebuilding the sign, despite objections from her daughter Prism (Cecilia Choi), who longs to emigrate to Australia, where she says she will have more creative freedom in her work. 
Though A Light Never Goes Out is made as a sentimental and gentle tribute to neon signs and those who made them, it’s hard not to feel melancholy from a sense of loss that clouds over the film. Tsang stops short of having her characters explicitly wishing for the good old days, but the film is nevertheless a sad remembrance of things that Hong Kong has lost over time. This is especially striking when Tsang cuts between archival shots of old neon-lit roads and the sign-less streets of today’s Hong Kong for comparison. Yet, A Light Never Goes Out is also a beautifully realised tribute to an old Hong Kong icon. Tsang’s faithful recreation of real classic neon signs is especially impressive considering her limited budget. Tsang’s painstaking effort to show what goes into bending neon tubes and the safety risks involved also helps viewers gain further appreciation into the blood and sweat that neon sign masters put into their work. 
A Light Never Goes Out would’ve worked well enough as a sentimental film about a dying craft, but Tsang understands that neon signs meant more to Hongkongers than just lights that illuminated Hong Kong’s roads; they represented Hong Kong’s golden era as an inspiration to the world. In Chinese, we say that a prosperous place is represented by the imagery of twinkling lights beaming from thousands of homes. So, what does it mean when our roads are no longer lit up by the very signs of prosperity? Tsang ends her film with an inkling of hope that certain things will survive as long as there are people who are still willing to make them, but will these people still be needed in a few years? On the other hand, even if we fail to rage against the dying of the lights, it’s comforting to know that Tsang has successfully immortalised them in film. 


Anastasia Tsang

Before starting her directorial career, Anastasia Tsang worked in media and film distribution. After making several short films – including one in the omnibus film Naked Human Nature – she co-wrote several TV dramas for local network Viu TV, including Afterlife Firm and Till Death Do Us Part, as well as the 2019 film A Journey of Happiness. Picked as one of the projects of the fifth round of the First Feature Film Initiative scheme, A Light Never Goes Out is her feature directorial debut. 


2022 – A Light Never Goes Out 

Kevin Ma
Film Director: Anastasia TSANG
Year: 2022
Running time: 103'
Country: Hong Kong