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Review: ‘Nightfall’ Offers Up Some Beautiful But Predictable Thrills (Hong Kong)

By  · Published on July 20th, 2012

It’s not often that you find cinematic art in a prison shower scene. Well, let’s rephrase. Non-exploitative prison shower scenes are rarely things of beauty. (Much better.)

This film’s opening is an exception though as a single man fends off multiple attackers in an absolutely brutal and bloody brawl. The violent action is captured through painful-looking fight choreography and camerawork that utilizes slow motion to great effect. Bones are broken, blood is spilled and the scene ends leaving viewers as drained as the only man left standing.

That man, Eugene Wang (Nick Cheung), is released from prison after a twenty year sentence for the rape and murder of a young woman, and his first stop is to grab some ice cream and eyeball some cute women at a busy intersection. He spots a teenager named Zoe (Janice Man) at a music university who looks almost identical to the woman he was convicted of killing, and soon he’s living in a small shack near her home, watching her through a telescope and plastering his wall with her picture.

When a burned, beaten and disfigured corpse is discovered nearby Inspector Lam (Simon Yam) is tasked with the case. He has his own issues including an emotionally distant daughter and a wife who reportedly killed herself a few years prior, and as he focuses in on the dead body he discovers a link to the other killing two decades earlier.

Nightfall is the follow-up from director/co-writer Roy Chow and co-writer Christine To after their 2009 hit, Murderer. That film did well at the box-office but was a dud critically (my apparently contrarian review aside), and while their latest is almost as dark and violent it manages to keep its revelations and twists much closer to the realm of reality. Whether or not that’s ultimately a good thing is up for debate.

It’s pretty clear early on where much of the story is heading so surprises are kept to a minimum, but even if we have a good idea as to the plot twists ahead the film does a fine job following the police as they work through the details to reach the same conclusions.

As mentioned earlier, this is a beautiful-looking movie. Cinematographer Ardy Lam does a fantastic job capturing the action, but equally as impressive are his cityscape shots at night. The lights of the densely packed Hong Kong illuminate the harbor with a pristine and inviting glow, and the quieter night scenes (like the one above) carry an equally impressive visual style.

Yam and Leung both do strong work here. Yam has the grizzled, old cop down cold and benefited by his encroaching grey hairs and sleepy eyes. And while Leung worked hard to get his forty four year old body into lean but muscular shape his performance casts an emotional pallor over his face and expressions. Wang exists in the hazy zone between bad guy and not-so bad guy, and Leung makes you doubt his guilt even as you know it to be true. Kay Tse also deserves mention as a cute female cop employed both as possible romantic bait for Lam and possible victim for Wang.

The film’s biggest issues are a few highly illogical scenes that make zero sense in the narrative or in the realm of common sense. Twice in the film we see Wang and Lam meet for a talk, but in neither instance do we have any idea how they made contact. The first actually takes place in a police station after an elaborate chase scene in which the cops failed to catch Wang. He gets away, endangering some officers in the process… and is then shown casually chatting with the lead detective just moments later. The second is just as nonsensical but is partially excused as it takes place on the stunning Ngong Ping Cable Car ride just outside the city.

Nightfall is an okay thriller highlighted by two strong performances and some sharply attractive visuals. It’s an improvement over Chow’s first film in regard to clarity and simplicity, but that lack of bravado means the movie is far less memorable too.

Nightfall was recently released and is available on import DVD from YesAsia and other online retailers.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.