Hong Kong (2012) Dir. Roy Chow Hin Yeung
Wang Yuen-yeung (Nick Cheung) is released from prison on parole after serving twenty years for a murder he claims he didn’t commit even though he admitted to it. While working a job at a music company Wang – now a mute after a failed suicide attempt – spots a young girl Zoe Tsui (Janice Man) playing the piano and is transfixed by her, eventually following her to her home and moving in close by to spy on her.
Shortly after Zoe’s abusive father, the renowned tenor Han Tsui (Michael Wong) is found dead, his body burned and battered beyond recognition, and grizzled veteran cop George Lam (Simon Yam) who is heading the investigation, seems to think there is connection between Tsui’s murder and that of his daughter Eva (Janice Man again), the girl Wang is accused of murdering. Noticing an uncanny resemblance between Zoe and Eva, Lam pegs Wang as the prime suspect but as the investigation continues the outcome is not as obvious as it may seem.
After making an inauspicious debut with the poorly received Murderer, director Roy Chow Hin Yeung once again teams up with screenwriter Christine To for this twisting dark thriller, which shows that lessons were very much learned from their previous collaboration. Not only is the story wonderfully deceptive once it gets going but Chow’s directing skills appear to be far more capable of handling such a demanding story and well worn genre. And to support his cause, help is on hand from two reliable and strong leads in Nick Cheung and Simon Yam.
The story first appears as though it is standard crime thriller fare with the psychotic killer returning to civilian life only to seemingly have re-offended again with the determined but flawed cop hot on his heels believing his has al the answers. There are actually two conceits to this story: the identity of Han Tui’s murderer and the resemblance of sisters Eva and Zoe, the latter born the same year as her sister’s death and about whom she was never told by her parents.
We learn very quickly that Han is a bullying and overly strict father to Zoe, flipping out when he learns Zoe has committed the heinous crime of integrating with boys at school, beating her inexplicably shouting at her in English, while Mrs. Tsui (On-on Yu) cowers in silence in the next room. Naturally Wang is top of the culprit list when Lam starts going through the family history and notices the similarities between Zoe and the late Eva and Wang’s recently renewed and surreptitious acquaintance with the Tsui family. Even a mute
While the main story is focused an neatly deceptive, leading the viewer down some fairly obvious paths then throws a new direction in the way, there are some undeveloped sub plots which might have given just that extra bit of depth to troubled cop Lam. Aside from the usual cop problem of having a teenage daughter who resent the fact her dad is on call more than he is at home, Lam is also haunted by the death of wife some years earlier, which was recorded as a suicide but he is sure it was murder.
His habit of re-opening old cases of a similar nature doesn’t sit well with Lam’s superior but with the Tsui murder case, it actually pays off. The additional romantic tease between Lam and a much younger and ridiculously pretty colleague (Kay Tse) also goes no where, seemingly inserted into the story just to give the perky Tse some screen time.
Despite a fairly tight plot there are a few little irritating slip ups: for example later in the film when Zoe is supposed to be under 24/7 police protection they let her leave the house without a chaperone; or when they discover Wang’s hideout by the Tsui mansion they don’t think to station any officers at said domicile, just as Wang is breaking in to Zoe’s room again – something he did earlier while Lam was downstairs questioning Mrs Tsui! And why isn’t Wang under closer surveillance if he is the number one suspect?
The film redeems itself with some particularly fun action scenes, including the vicious prison bathroom fight which opens the film and the cable car scrap between Lam and Wang (which is sadly marred by some ill-advised CGI), as well as the obligatory street chase scene. Aside from the practically hilarious turn from Michael Wong as the nasty Han Tsui, whose brutish parenting is borderline caricature, the cast give director Chow their all.
Nick Cheung is becoming almost too good as the disabled villain (after his turn as the near blind kidnapper in Beast Stalker) and should fear typecasting, while Simon Yam once again fits nicely in the role as the world weary cop. The fetching Janice Man (who is the spitting image of Japanese model Miwa Oshiro – which isn’t a bad thing in my book) sadly sports just one facial expression throughout the film even with the dual roles, but considering the tragic figures she plays, that is to be expected.
There is a fear that Hong Kong crime thrillers may have had their day and while Nightfall is not the saviour of the genre, it is a strong indicator that there is some life left in the old dog yet!