Everyone appreciates a good cop story, and the Chinese are no different. Those dedicated investigators who stick it out through thick and thin to get to the bottom of things are a cause for celebration wherever they serve. There’s one thing a cop anywhere will tell you: somehow – in some way – it all comes back to family. This doesn’t necessarily mean mom or dad or little sis are guilty, mind you; what it means is that there are few motivators in life as strong as the bonds that tie us together. Despite the best of intentions, families can drive us to drink; they can drive us to drive; and, in the worst circumstances, they can drive us to commit the very darkest of sins.
Such is the stuff of NIGHTFALL, a quiet and meditative thriller directed by Chow Hin Yeung Roy.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and character. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re entirely accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Detective Lam (the omnipresent Simon Yam) heads up a detective squad that specializes in cold cases. He identifies Wong Yeun-Yeung (Nick Cheung) as being tied to what appears to be a revenge killing. It looks like once he was released from prison, Wong went after the man a put him there – a renowned pianist whose daughter it was proved Wong raped and murdered. However, things don’t rest easy with Lam, and, as he keeps pulling back the layers, he uncovers a family’s long-hidden secret … something so stark that it’s still causing pain today.
Try as it might, NIGHTFALL can’t escape comparisons to practically every other solid cop flick that’s been produced in whatever culture. You have your committed, grizzled senior detective (Lam); you have his team of young, willing, still-learning sidekicks; and Lam’s got a plethora of family issues. His wife committed suicide years ago, an act he still can’t quite reconcile. His daughter hates him. His hide is being chewed out by his captain. And now he’s got the murder of a Hong Kong celebrity requiring his attention. Can’t a guy catch a break?
What differentiates NIGHTFALL just a bit is the fact that the pieces of the puzzle are almost always successfully in motion. Wong is introduced in an opening fight sequence that raises serious questions about whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy in the flick, and the director cleverly straddles this line consistently while never allowing the audience to take their eyes off of the quickly developing new murder the ex-con finds himself a part of. Needless to say, it’s this story that’s pivotal for the climax, and, despite a healthy sprinkling of clues along the way, there’s just enough ambiguity to keep viewers guessing.
However, NIGHTFALL is not without some pacing problems. There are several long sequences shot by Chow Hin Yeung Roy that, honestly, could’ve been trimmed to give the picture a better running length. At 108 minutes, it feels a bit bloated for where it all comes from, not including where it’s all heading. It’s well photographed and smartly lit, but, then again, there’s a word for things that are so: they’re called commercials. With greater narrative trickery, the impact could’ve been strengthened while the excess was trimmed (by easily 20 minutes); the end result would’ve been an even stronger story.
Still, you get what you get: a strong tale centered on retribution where family truly matters even at the cost of one’s sanity.
NIGHTFALL is produced by EDKO Film, Film Development Fund of Hong Kong, Irresistible Films, and Sil-Metropole Organisation. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through Well Go USA. As for the technical specifications, the presentation looks and sounds mostly solid, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I found the audio mix to be a bit off; in early parts of the film I had to crank the center channel way up in order to hear the dialogue, but this problem seems to taper off in the latter half. The disc has two special features: a nice ‘making-of’ short (about 40 minutes) that actually combines talent interviews with some behind-the-scenes footage, and the theatrical trailer.
RECOMMENDED. The pacing is a bit off, and I could’ve used more relationship-building between Detective Lam and his large team of investigators, but, otherwise, NIGHTFALL is a pretty impressive police procedural with some taut moments of family melodrama perfectly built in. This isn’t to say that I didn’t see most of the ending coming, but the tight script by Chow Hin Yeung Roy and Chi-long To still managed to squeak out a surprise or two here and there. And Simon Yam never gets enough love so far as this online reviewer is concerned; here, he’s given the chance to fully take the reins, and he turns in a convincing performance as the cop who’ll stop at nothing to uncover the truth hidden beneath the coldest cases. It would’ve been nice for his own character’s story to get some resolution … but, if it had, then he might not have been the detective he’s become.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with an advance DVD copy of NIGHTFALL for the expressed purposes of completing this review.