Night and Fog -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- Hong Kong's disadvantaged underclass has become a popular topic in recent years, and with the economy such as it is, Ann Hui's newest, "Night and Fog," couldn't have more relevancy if it tried.

Set in Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong's de facto ghetto, the film follows a young Mainland woman trapped in a wretched marriage to an unemployed man who seems more interested in collecting welfare checks than in creating a stable home with his family. "Night and Fog" will pique the interest of Asian-themed festivals, and the recognition factor of Hui and co-star Simon Yam could generate a limited art house release within Asia and possibly in urban markets abroad.

The dark and muted "Night and Fog" begins at the end, and the tragedy unfolds in flashback as the police investigates what happened to Lee Sum (Yam), his wife Ling (Zhang Jingchu) and their twin daughters. After concerned neighbor Mrs. Au (Amy Chum) helps her seek advice from public services following a vicious beating, Ling comes to rely on the support of a clutch of women at a shelter she runs to, among them Lily (Jacqueline Law), who comes from the same area in Sichuan as Ling. Ling goes back and forth to Sum, eventually making a decision to leave him for good, which turns out to be her last decision.

Hui has never been known for having a light touch when she's on a social rampage, and "Night and Fog" -- heavy-handedly named for Alain Resnais' Auschwitz doc -- is no different. Most of the roadblocks Ling encounters as she tries to shake free of her situation are familiar, and they're not artistic creations, but Hui and writers Cheung King-wai and Alex Law force so many tribulations into the script that it becomes overwhelming. That every single social organization, cop, counselor and social worker refuses to take Ling seriously strains credibility. Sum is a batterer and a rapist and a welfare cheat, though there's never any illumination as to what drove him to where he is.

But imperfect as it is, the film belongs to Zhang. When Ling makes the wrong decision and lashes out with false accusations in desperation, she is never less than believable, and she compels us to understand her, even when knee-jerk instincts force us to view her actions as simply wrong. Hui also focuses on Hong Kong's evolving relationship with China and positions Ling as an exemplar of the disillusionment that can afflict so many newcomers to the Special Administrative Region The idea of Hong Kong as a flawed promised land will ring true for locals, but the universal message is one that's familiar to viewers everywhere.

Production companies: Class Ltd.

Cast: Zhang Jingchu, Simon Yam, Jacqueline Law, Amy Chum.
Director: Ann Hui.
Screenwriter: Cheung King-wai, Alex Law.
Executive producer: Wong Jing.
Producer: Ann Hui.
Director of photography: Charlie Lam.
Art director: Albert Poon.
Music: Charlotte Chan.
Costume designer: Albert Poon.
Editor: Kong Chi-leung.
Sales: Mega-Vision Pictures Ltd.
No rating, 117 minutes.
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