The latest Asian movie releases. Simon Yam finds himself drawn into a strange murder case in the Hong Kong cop thriller Nightfall, out now on Region 3 DVD.
Simon Yam has been one of my favourite Hong Kong actors for nearly as long as I’ve been watching Asian movies. By 1992, Yam had been acting for well over a decade, but it was his turn that year as the insane villain in Ringo Lam’s heroic bloodshed classic Full Contact that really brought him to my attention. His appearance in John Woo’s Bullet in the Head was a highpoint, and more recently it’s been great to see him starring in so many of Johnnie To’s films. Like most prolific Hong Kong actors, Yam has appeared in more than his fair share of crap too, but his combination of crumpled cool and quiet intensity always elevates the material.
Roy Chow’s new thriller Nightfall gives Yam a pretty familiar lead role. He plays Inspector Lam, a grizzled, boozy cop haunted by the suicide of his wife and with a tendency to reopen old cases. When the disfigured body of acclaimed concert pianist Han Tsui is found floating in the sea, it looks like a cut-and-dried case. Eighteen years earlier, Han Tsui’s daughter Eva (Janice Man) was killed by an apparent stalker called Wang (Nick Cheung) – who has recently been released from prison. Eva’s younger sister Zoe (Man again) – now 18 herself – is being stalked by someone and the immediate assumption is that Wang has returned to his murderous ways. But of course, Inspector Lam thinks there may be more to it than that…
Roy Chow’s debut film was the 2009 thriller Murderer – written, like this movie, with Christine To – which proved to be a box office hit but was criticised in various quarters for its ludicrous plot developments. Nightfall is Chow’s follow-up, and although it does feature a few late-in-the-day twists and rather convoluted storytelling, it just about stays on the right side of plausible, as Lam slowly uncovers the truth behind Han Tsui’s murder. If anything, the film becomes bogged down by Chow and To’s attempts to answer all the questions, resulting in a series of plodding flashback montages towards the end that only really show us what we’d already worked out via the dialogue. And it’s not like we’re in wildly original territory anyway – the cops, the investigation, the interrogations, the chases – all happen exactly as you’d expect for this sort of thing.
Thankfully Yam and co-star Nick Cheung bring a touch of class to the otherwise generic material. There’s an amusing, playful chemistry between Yam and Kay Tse, playing a junior detective assisting him on the case, and although his back-story isn’t really developed, Yam convinces as a brilliant but world-weary cop who can’t let go of the past. And with no dialogue (due to Wang’s suicide attempt in prison), Nick Cheung is terrific as the enigmatic murder suspect, a captivating mix of menace and melancholy. Yam and Cheung have some stand-out scenes together, most notably a gripping confrontation in a cable car, suspended dizzyingly high above the ground.
Chow directs with some style – I found the editing trickery a bit irritating, but he and cinematographer Ardy Lam deliver some hypnotic nighttime vistas of Hong Kong, while Umebayashi Shigeru provides a moody, evocative score. It’s ironic then that the strength of the performances and the technical aspects only serve to highlight the somewhat pedestrian storytelling; in less classy surroundings the pulpy narrative might have seemed less incongruous. Still, Nightfall is a solid enough thriller, and Yam fans like myself will enjoy the ever-youthful-looking 57-year-old star doing what he does best.