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June 16, 2016

The Midnight After

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Na yeh ling san, ngo joa seung liu Wong Gok hoi wong dai bou dik hung Van
Fruit Chan - 2014
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Battling a cold during the first few days when I attended the Far East Film Festival in 2014, I passed up the late screening of The Midnight After. Almost two years later, and Fruit Chan's film is now getting a DVD only release in the U.S. Now that I've seen The Midnight After, I can understand why there may have been little rush to make the film available stateside. The film serves as something of a a two hour metaphor for Hong Kong following the handover to mainland China, and as such, may be limited in terms how the film will be understood. Even setting aside the politics, those viewers who demand explanations for everything they see on screen will probably feel frustrated by the several unanswered questions.

A mini bus leaves from the main part of Hong Kong to an outlying city. While underneath the tunnel that links the two sections, other motor vehicles disappear. There are no cars or people on the other side, and no communications available. Several of the passengers die mysterious, violent deaths, bodies spontaneously crumbling or exploding. The remaining survivors stay in a small restaurant, trying to figure out what has become of the world they've known, and trying to work together in spite of various tensions.

One of several seemingly random messages received turns out to be the lyrics to David Bowie's "Space Oddity". While in no way intended on Chan's part, the scene with the survivors singing along to Bowie's song is inescapably affecting. Bowie's song is appropriate here as it's from the point of view of someone trying to maintain the illusion of having some control in a situation where there is total loss of control of the space ship. The scene with "Space Oddity" also provides a turning point in the narrative as there appears to be an unexplained shift of time, and the laws of gravity don't apply when the mini-bus is pursued by several large military vehicles.

Unlike some of the recent Hong Kong films that have been produced with companies from mainland China, The Midnight After is pointedly a film made by and for Hong Kongers. The best known stars here are to Johnny To regulars, Lam Suet and Simon Lam, although this is very much an ensemble piece. Chan's film is, in retrospect, one of the first of a new series of Hong Kong films that have expressed renewed anxieties about the handover, with more recent films being more direct about the concerns of being part of mainland China. For Fruit Chan, Hong Kong might be less of a country than a state of mind, one that is caught between a disappearing past, and a unclear, hostile future.

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Posted by peter at June 16, 2016 05:40 PM