Nightfall: Filmart Review

Cop pits wits with con in an improbably plotted but visually resonant Hong Kong thriller starring Nick Cheung and Simon Yam.

The second feature directed by Chow Hin Yeung is an up-scale detective story for the Asian mainstream.

For those who care more about action, location and pace in their police procedurals than realism and logic, the visually sophisticated Hong Kong thriller Nightfall, a second feature directed by Chow Hin Yeung, is a step above genre standards. A gone-to-seed police detective pits wits with a brilliant ex-con implicated in the gruesome death of an opera tenor, whose daughter was murdered twenty years earlier. The thickly plotted, highly improbable story benefits from the expressive ability of two star leads, who add character interest to a stylish, up-scale detective story for the Asian mainstream.

In a violent opener set in a steamy prison shower room, a ferocious, half-naked fighter beats three fellow cons within an inch of their lives in brutal, aestheticized close-ups. What this energetically choreographed scene has to do with the rest of the narrative is left hanging until much later on. The muscular fighter turns out to be the unhinged Eugene Wang (Nick Cheung of Beast Stalker), who has been serving time for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend Eva (Janice Man.) Released on parole after twenty years in the hopper, his crazed eyes and quivering lips, as he ogles girls on the street or punches out a face on a billboard, announce a potential psycho-killer who is far from reformed. He also suddenly dives into Hong Kong harbor for a swim, which can’t be a sane idea.

Meanwhile, Chow and his co-scripter Christine To Chi-Long introduce the lovable, unshaven, alcoholic Inspector Lam (Simon Yam, who played the villain in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.) His backstory, laid out but never explored, is that some years back his wife committed suicide, or may possibly have been murdered, leaving him with a rebellious teenage daughter and an obsession for reopening old police cases. His non-starting private life with long-suffering teammate Ying (Kate Tse) is a bust, but Yam’s intelligent eyes inspire confidence that he will get his man by the end of the story. Stock secondary characters fade into the background when he tangles with Wang, whose superior intelligence is suggested by the parolee having won a chess championship as a youth that Yam never even qualified for.

There’s a faint whiff of Vertigo in the confused identities of the well-to-do but unlucky Tsui family, headed by celebrity tenor Han Tsui (played by a one-note Michael Wong, whose face on the billboard drove Wang bananas.) The verbal and physical abuse he bestows on his lovely young daughter Zoe (Man in a double role) seems one small step away from incest, while his wife plays dumb in front of an expensive Buddha statue. Wang also becomes obsessed with Zoe, confusing her with the dead Eva, and stalks the girl with ambiguous intent.    

Much unwieldy plot to untangle, but Chow seems more interested in constructing resonating scenes. Wang’s quasi-supernatural power to leap over barriers, open locked doors and make unexpected appearances keeps the tension high. As the villain, Cheung maintains a frightening calm as he effortlessly stays one step ahead of the police, who follow his trail of blatant clues.

The film’s main set piece takes place on the Ngong Ping cable car where Lam and Wang swing above the woody hills of Lantau island from a stomach-clenching height, and where the enigmatic Wang wins another round on the good inspector. Wondering why they should be up there in the first place (it was Lam’s idea) is like asking why 007 should be dangling from a moon rocket; if it works – and honestly, the scene does bristle with tension and suspense – it’s found enough raison d’etre for this film.

Time and again the city of Hong Kong furnishes the inspiration for dreamy fantasy images, like the repeated aerial views of its brilliantly lit night skyline, or chase scenes of an ant army of policemen running up and down the skyscrapers’ Escher-like staircases, followed by D.P. Ardy Lam’s flying cam.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, March 21, 2012.

Production companies: Edko Film, Irresistible Films, Sill-Metropole, At Movie
Cast: Nick Cheung, Simon Yam, Janice Man, Kay Tse, Michael Wong, Shawn Dou
Director:  Chow Hin Yeung
Screenwriter: Chow Hin Yeung, Christine To Chi-long
Producers: William Kong, Ivy Ho
Executive producers: William Kong, Ryuhei Chiba, Dai Song
Director of photography: Ardy Lam
Production designer: Pater Wong
Editor: Ka-Fai Cheung
Music: Shigeru Umebayashi
Sales Agent: Edko Film
No rating, 108 minutes