Thursday, October 10, 2013

Roy Chow Hin-Yeung's NIGHTFALL: What does a somewhat middling Hong Kong movie look like?

When I first saw NIGHTFALL appear on the list of new additions to Netflix' streaming service, I automatically thought it was a Korean film. The poster had that certain look, and the story --according to the short Netflix description -- had to do with a detective investigating the murder of a famous pianist, so that sounded properly dark and delving. But then, as we started watching and the opening scene was one of those uber-bloody and frenetic but perfectly choreographed action/fight scenes taking place in the shower room of a prison, I immediately realized, uh-oh: Hong Kong! (I've never been there, so the night-time cityscape on the poster above didn't ring any bells.)

And indeed this is a Hong Kong creation, though not up to the level of some of the better of the Johnnie To movies like Breaking News or Sparrow (click and scroll way down). In fact there are two major action sequences: that fine and fast opening and another in a glass-bottom cable car (plus a couple of good chase scenes, as well). But the major part of this off-key but reasonably fulfilling film from Roy Chow Hin-Yeung (shown at right) is devoted to the mystery of multiple deaths arriving a generation apart, and the detective bent on solving them, along with his -- this is near-de rigueur for current Asian thrillers -- pretty young female assistant. (Real feminism is coming but slowly to Asia, if its movies are any indication.)

The longing of families fractured by untimely death is a paramount theme here, and it's handled pretty well, mostly thanks to that wiry but highly muscled actor Nick Cheung (above) who manages to handle both action and emotional scenes with prodigious flair and feeling. The titular star of the film is Simon Yam (below) who plays the detective in charge of the case, who lost his wife to supposed suicide (he imagines something other) years before. Mr. Lam gives a perfectly OK, close-to-the-vest performance but his work pales against what is required of (and provided by) the amazing Mr. Cheung.

The family that gives the plot its goosing is made up of a servile mom (Yu On-on), that pianist dad (Michael Wong, in a pretty scary, "Hey, listen to me revert to English!" performance) and put-upon daughter (the lovely Janice Man). Each is up to snuff, with Mr. Wong particularly memorable in a nasty way.

Enjoyable enough and somewhat mysterious (though I guessed the characters' connections awhile before the movie revealed them), Nightfall never rises much about the level of "just so-so." Despite all the back-and-forth, past-and-present time-frame changes, the film is not at all hard to follow. In fact, it's a little simple minded in its plodding manner, and the detective work on display is pretty paltry, too. Not to mention the coincidences that abound. I suspect that, had this been a Korean film after all (see initial paragraph), it would have made a better movie -- though perhaps with not quite such good action sequences.

(On the subject of "just so-so" (in the paragraph above): This was a rating level that Netflix, early in the game, used to offer its viewers, before it realized that forcing folk into either liking or not liking a movie was a much better marketing strategy because most of the time, viewers will, if they have mixed feelings about a film, opt for liked it over didn't like it. Little wonder, once Netflix dropped the so-so rating, so many movies seemed to become so much more popular. Rotten Tomatoes does the same thing. You either like or don't like a film. A mixed review cannot exist. This is, of course, bullshit. But this is also the hail-the-god-of-marketing times in which we live.)

Nightfall (a rather much-used title) in this case probably refers to the beautiful shot above -- in which sea, sky, cliffs and moon are actually the background for some very ugly goings-on. The film is available now via Netflix steaming.

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