Monday, September 17, 2012

SFFS HK Cinema ’12: Nightfall

George Lam is like the Kurt Wallander of the Hong Kong police force.  At least, this inspector has good reason for being moody.  Still grieving his wife’s unexplained suicide, Lam will tackle a deeply disturbing case in Roy Chow Hin Yeung’s Nightfall (trailer here), which screens on the opening night of the San Francisco Film Society’s eagerly anticipated second annual Hong Kong Cinema Festival.

Eugene Wang has just been released from prison.  Convicted for the murder of a famous opera singer’s teenage daughter, he had to drastically harden himself to survive his sentence.  When said opera singer, Han Tsui, is discovered brutally beaten to death, suspicion naturally falls on Wang.  It is pretty clear though Tsui’s death is no great tragedy for his younger daughter, Zoe, who has grown to become the spitting image of Eva, the older sister she never knew she had.

Of course, Lam is the best and worst detective for a case like this.  A habitual scab-picker, he cannot help delving into the darker corners of the human psyche.  If you consider passing out dead drunk in the middle of the afternoon hard-boiled, than he is amongst the hardest boiled.  He is not much of a father though, nor is he a good candidate for romance.  Yet, his younger cuter partner Ying Au-yeung still has eyes for him, probably because he is played by Simon Yam.

Basically, Nighfall is a contest between Yam and Nick Cheung to see who can be more intensely wound up.  Cheung’s Wang probably wins that one, but Yam also brings an appealingly rumpled charisma to the party.  As a mystery, Christine To Chi-long’s script telegraphs every revelation well in advance, but it is a dynamic showcase for the antagonists, eventually going Mano-a-mano on a sky-gondola to Lantau.

Yam versus Cheung is definitely the main event here, but there are some fine contributions from the big name supporting cast.  Cantopop superstar Kay Tse is an energetic and realistically grounded presence as Ying, whereas the Shaw Brothers veteran Gordon Liu adds even more grizzle as an old corrupt copper.  Janice Man looks exquisitely ethereal as Zoe and Eva, but she never has much to express besides vulnerability. However, Michael Wong’s turn as the late Tsui is in a category by itself, beyond over-the-top.

Cinematographer Ardy Lam has a knack for shooting scenes at great heights while maintaining the noir vibe.  Frankly, the film might actually peak with the first scene—an adrenaline charged throwdown in a prison shower room, but Yam is always compulsively watchable and especially so here.  In fact, one can easily see his George Lam becoming a franchise character.  Very satisfying for fans of HK movies, Nightfall screens this Friday (9/21) at the New Peoples Cinema in San Francisco as part of the opening night of their 2012 Hong Kong Cinema Festival. 

Also screening Friday night is Pang Ho-cheung’s Love in the Buff, a well written look at the pitfalls of romance with a highly attractive cast and an appealingly swinging soundtrack.  Recommended for movie-goers looking for something smart but not too heavy, it also screens Sunday (9/23).  See the full review here.