A detective is tasked with investigating the death of a murdered Hong Kong celebrity. What appears at first be a simple case of revenge soon turns into something much more complicated as the roles of victim and killer become increasingly difficult to determine.

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21 Mar 2012 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 21 Mar 2012 - 12:00 AM

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Lame procedural has few redeeming qualities.

Only the superb widescreen lensing of cinematographer Ardy Lam saves Chow Hin Yeung Roy’s Nightfall from immediate and utter cinematic obscurity (and a zero star-rating). A melodramatic serial-killer/cop-procedural that plays its fancifully cornball script with square-jawed stoicism, there is not a single frame of this densely-cliched nonsense that convinces. Its inherent kitschiness may extend its onscreen life far beyond what it deserves, with midnight audiences certain to celebrate its campy pretense.

At face value, the key players in Roy’s potboiler might soar under the grandly operatic direction of a Scorsese, a De Palma or a Wong Kar-Wai. There is the burnt-out cop (a cardboard Simon Yam, revealed as too old for the part in key action scenes) who is convinced his wife’s suicide was murder; the just-paroled mute psychopath (Nick Cheung, sporting the most fake neck-scar you’ll ever see) whose penchant for nubile teens (and ice-cream cones) kicks in as soon as he hits downtown Hong Kong; and, quite literally, a highly-strung opera star (a manic Michael Wong) who works through the grief of losing one daughter to the killer by beating his youngest child (Janice Man) every time a suitor looks in her direction.

The psycho wires the opera star’s home so as to spy on the young girl but finds himself high on the detective’s list of suspects when the singer is found beaten and burnt in a secluded fishing spot. Eventually Yam, accompanied by his sidekick Ying (Kate Tse, giggly and hilariously untrained in how police carry a firearm) start doing some detecting; Man blankly meanders from scene to scene, occasionally being startled by the same creepy classmate and never once seeing Cheung as he lurks nearby.

The cop’s questioning very quickly becomes rote and, in one scene, strangely homo-erotic; when he finally drags Cheung’s nutjob into the station-house, they riff about jailhouse man-love and mature-age masturbation in one of the film’s unfathomably odd moments (which is saying something in film that features a joy-filled character’s spontaneous plunge Hong Kong’s putrid harbour). For most of the rest of Nightfall (the crassly generic title never fully explained), the narrative alternates between boring and unintentionally funny, leading to a good ol’-fashioned but entirely unnecessary showdown atop the famous Ngong Ping cable-car system.

Every character’s motivation (and their assigned actor’s line-reading) is impossible to comprehend. Grieving widows are shifty-eyed; police underlings, five-deep at gruesome crime scenes and during interrogations, are flippant joke-makers. Dialogue is risible and occasionally hilarious. The canings that Wong unleashes upon Man are reminiscent of Faye Dunaway’s infamous coat-hanger tirades in the Joan Crawford biopic, Mommie Dearest.

Roy developed a following-of-sorts with his debut film, the much-leaner cop thriller Murderer (2009), but loftier ambitions and a broader canvas have derailed his sophomore film. But it does look great, which brings us full-circle to the camerawork of Ardy Lam, a Hong Kong cinema veteran who shot Jackie Chan’s 1992 breakthrough hit Supercop and its sequel. Lam captures the horribly-familiar action terrain as best he can; as someone familiar with the waterside cityscape of Hong Kong, his exteriors are exquisite. It is a horrible shame it is in the service of such a dire misfire.

Details

MA15+
1 hour 48 min

Genres