After viewing director Roy Chow Yin Yeung's new thriller, NIGHTFALL, I shall resist the temptation to label him Hong Kong's answer to M. Night Shyamalan, for the sole reason that it might be too complimentary. The director's debut, MURDERER, was also penned by Christine To and boasts one of the most audaciously bad twist endings in recent memory. Their second collaboration may lack the balls-out shock value of MURDERER's climactic reveal, but the entire drama revolves around a series of twists that, when considered for a moment, make not a lick of sense and ensure that a rather dull and uninvolving procedural thriller comes crashing to its knees.
Inspector Lam (Simon Yam) is a veteran cop, haunted by the suicide of his wife and struggling to cope with a heavy caseload and a temperamental teenage daughter. When the horribly disfigured body of a prominent classical singer, Han Tsui (Michael Wong) is found in the ocean, the finger of blame is soon pointed at recently released ex-con Eugene Wang (Nick Cheung). As he looks into the case, Lam discovers that Wang was imprisoned 20 years previously for the murder of Tsui's daughter, Eva (Janice Man). Wang is now mute, following a botched suicide attempt in prison that wrecked his vocal chords, but he appears convinced Tsui's second daughter, Zoe (also Man), is in fact Eva. However, as Lam closes in on his suspect and digs further into the Tsui family history he discovers a number of dark secrets that expose nothing to be what it seems.
While Chow and To lay the foundations for what should be an intriguing police investigation centred around two genuinely complex lead characters, things very soon take a turn for the dreary and never recover. The film opens with a flashily shot prison scuffle that sees Wang viciously assaulted by a number of other cons in the shower room, only for him to kill them all with his bare hands and a metal drain cover. Why were they attacking him? Who knows. How long ago did this happen? We are never told. This is simply a badass action moment that shows the audience how ruthless and dangerous Wang can be.
Sadly the pace and tone of the film very quickly downshift into a monotonous plod that never employs this degree of energy and freneticism again. Characters are chased, attacked and even die, but despite blasting us with loud music and jolting sound cues, it is difficult to engage with such enigmatic and poorly drawn caricatures. The script never bothers to explain why Lam's wife killed herself or why he is so obsessed with taking old solved cases and re-opening them (although of course it does lead to him randomly discovering important information later on). He appears to have some kind of relationship going on with his teammate Ying (Kate Tse), but it is never explained nor explored. He is a tortured cop and that should be enough for us.
Likewise, Wang is immediately labelled as the bad guy, who is released from prison and wanders the streets of Hong Kong ogling young women and coming just short of howling at the moon. Soon enough he is staking out the Tsui residence, following Zoe to class and glaring at everyone from across the street with a look of murderous intent in his eyes. We know he's crazy because he goes swimming in the harbour, and that water's dangerously gross. Elsewhere, Janice Man's "victim" is never given much opportunity to develop beyond being pretty, innocent and put-upon by an over-protective father whose behaviour regularly tips over into abuse.
But beyond the cliché-ridden characterisation, turgid pacing and deliberately misleading narrative, NIGHTFALL seems convinced it is incredibly stylish, high-brow entertainment in a way that a director like Shyamalan has been known to accomplish, despite his other failings. There is no atmosphere in Chow's film and as a result the audience never really feels that there is anything at stake, save for the life of a pretty young girl who isn't particularly sympathetic or interesting. Chow even goes to great lengths to stage NIGHTFALL's climactic action sequence on the Ngong Ping cable car on Lantau island for no reason whatsoever, other than it might be cool. While there is nothing wrong with this in theory, the sequence then proves not to be very interesting in the slightest, leaving the audience scratching their heads as to why Chow and Co. even bothered.
Of course the real problems arise in Act 3, when the script slowly begins to reveal the truth behind this whole sorry tale, but instead of amazing us with horrific revelations, the script simply exposes itself as completely nonsensical. With each new "twist", logic seems to become an increasingly abstract and unobtainable concept, as if at no point anybody bothered to talk through the events after the first draft was written. Had anybody spent five minutes explaining what actually did happen between these characters, they would have realised in a matter of seconds how little sense any of it makes. But of course nobody ever did and it is left for the audience to choose whether or not to excuse the faults of the script or not. But considering NIGHTFALL has offered so little engaging entertainment up to this point, its calamitous finale only serves to further disfigure its already lifeless corpse before sinking it to the bottom of the ocean.
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