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Film Review: Night Fall

2012-04-05 16:00:40        Chinese Films

A still photo of the movie. [Photo: douban]

Nightfall

Hong Kong

Contemporary crime drama

2012, colour, 2.35:1, 106 mins

Directed by Roy Chow

Routine crime drama squanders good leads on a poor script with only average direction. Asian events.

Story

Hong Kong, the present day. Twenty years after being imprisoned for murder, Wong Yun-yeung (Nick Cheung), a mute, is released and put on parole. In the country, he rents an old house in view of that of world-famous tenor Tsui Hon-lam (Michael Wong) and eavesdrops on him and his family. Hon-lam, who is about to give his farewell concert, lives with his wife (Candice Yu) and daughter Tsui Sut (Janice Man), who is studying piano and of whom he is violently over-protective. When a burned and disfigured corpse is found by the seashore nearby, it is finally identified as Hon-lam's. The police detective in charge, Lam Ching-chung (Simon Yam), who specialises in reinvestigating cold cases and is still traumatised by the apparent suicide of his Taiwanese wife (Yumiko Cheng) five years ago, suspects Wong may be involved, as he was originally imprisoned for raping and murdering Hon-lam's elder daughter, Yi-wan (Janice Man). Wong has also become obsessed by Tsui Sut, who looks exactly like her late sister. However, the truth of both cases, spread across 20 years, is not so simple.

Review

To its credit, Nightfall lacks any Huge Unbelievable Twist on the scale of director Roy CHOW's over-rated first feature, Murderer (2009), but there's still the same feeling of good talent put to waste on a poor script (again by Christine TO, who wrote Fearless (2006) and Secret (2007)) and direction that again is routine at best. After an arresting main-title sequence and a set-up with various damaged characters on a collision course (a paroled convict with revenge in his eyes, a cop traumatised by his wife's suicide, a world-famous tenor who abuses his daughter), the movie fails to generate any accumulated tension or even psychological credibility as it yoyos between murders past and present that are seemingly connected.

Stranded in a mute role as the vengeful convict, the usually interesting Nick CHEUNG does the best he can on a physical level, mining elements of his psycho in Beast Stalker (2008), while Simon YAM, as the burned cop, just goes through the motions. Neither have much to work with in To's script, whose psychology is schematic at best and which doesn't exploit any cat-and-mouse tension between the two. (Typical of its random construction is the way the script simply ditches the back story of Yam's character instead of bringing it to bear on the present drama.) Instead, to liven things up — given that the Chinese title means The Big Hunt — there are various chases through Hong Kong landmark buildings that are just so-so, plus a spliced-in setpiece of the pair battling in a cable car whose thrills are undercut by its sheer unlikeliness.

How the clumsily written script ever got past the producers remains a mystery. Too much of the dialogue is either explanatory or expository, and the loose ends are still being sorted out under the end titles. Other performances are so-so, with Kay TSE (the lovelorn laundry girl in the same producers' Lover's Discourse (2010)) miscast as Yam's torch-holding assistant, Michael WONG straining credibility as an abusive concert tenor, and veteran Candice YU punching the clock as his long-suffering wife. As the couple's daughter (and her own dead sister), Janice MAN brings nothing special to the two roles, while the rest of the castlist is dotted with cameos, including newcomer Shawn DOU as a young Nick Cheung, veteran Gordon LIU as a retired cop, and even Mainland director TIAN Zhuangzhuang as a former prison guard.

Chow's experienced crew (d.p. Ardy LAM, editor CHEUNG Ka-fai, art director Pater WONG keep the film on track technically and provide a smoothly packaged product, with faded and fogged footage for the flashbacks and a cool look for the present. But they still can't disguise the fact this is mutton dressed up as lamb.

By Derek Elley (Film Business Asia)

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