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May 16, 2013

Nightfall

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Daai deoi bou
Chow Hin Yeung - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

You'll have to really pay attention to catch quick glances of movie posters at the female detective's apartment. I spotted posters for Vertigo and The Long Goodbye. Add to that an English language title shared with Jacques Tourneur's film from 1957. What connects Chow's film with these past works is the attention to the psychology of the characters. There is also some high tech electronic stalking reminiscent of Coppola's tangentially noir The Conversation. Like classic film noir, this is a film that's less interested in crime than in slowly peeling away family secrets.

Nick Cheung puts in a forceful performance as Wong, a man just released after serving twenty years in prison for rape and murder. Cheung doesn't speak at all, and it isn't until about the forty-five minute mark, when undergoing interrogation from a grizzled Simon Yam, that you realize that he can't speak. On his first night out of prison, Wong is eating an ice cream cone, while observing young women, pretty with short dresses, enjoying Hong Kong night life. There is a ravenous look on Wong's face that is clearly hungry for more than ice cream.

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There is a murder of of a prominent musician that appears to be an act of revenge by Wong. Detective Lam, interested in reopening closed cases sees connections that others miss. But the real heart of this film is about prisons, real or psychological, imposed by others, and the fragile nature of relationships between fathers and daughters. Vertigo is probably the most famous example, but part of the story here is built on two identical looking women.

Some viewers may get vertigo from Nightfall's outstanding set-piece. Lam and Wong go to Lantau Island, a tourist attraction that Wong visited in the past. The two are in one of the cable cars, high above ground. These cable cars have clear glass floors. Lam and Wong get into a fight in this very enclosed space, with gun shots piercing the windows and floor. A glass floor with cracks and bullet holes does not engender much confidence in a safe ride when you're suspended several hundred feet above a forest.

A film that is in part about musicians, the score by Shigeru Umebayashi is especially unusual for a mainstream Hong Kong film, with one of the major themes played by a dissonant violin. This is the second film for both Chow and his screenwriter Christine To. An added bonus is a brief appearance by Gordon Liu. In seriously bad health for over a year now, as far as I'm concerned, even a cameo by Liu is pure gold. Some of the brutality in the opening scene, a fight among prisoners in a shower, might put off some viewers. There are moments in Nightfall that play more like a horror movie than a crime thriller. Then again, the director of the older Nightfall worked famously in both genres. I'd prefer to think that this is more than coincidence.

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Posted by peter at May 16, 2013 07:12 AM