|If at first you donít succeed, try, try again. And if you still donít succeed, well, consider taking some criticism. Nightfall filmmakers Roy Chow and Christine To, this lesson is yours. The director-writer pair behind the rightfully-maligned Murderer return for their latest psychological crime thriller, about a mute ex-con who terrorizes the family of the man who originally put him away. Eugene Wang (Nick Cheung) was convicted for the brutal rape and murder of Eva (Janice Man). Now released after 20 years in the joint, he walks around ogling long-legged office ladies while licking ice cream lasciviously. This is after a violent intro shows Eugene going postal in prison on some guys bullying him in the shower. Letís see: violent, horny and also probably lonely. Either Eugene is a perverted villain or the filmmakers are going for an elaborate red herring. Given the dishonesty with which Murderer was foisted upon audiences, which do you think it is?
The credit first: the filmmakers do a good job of making it seem like Eugene could be either a twisted psycho or a very unfortunate ex-con, using fragmented flashbacks and exposition to lead the audience either towards or away from the truth. Soon after getting out of jail, Eugene is enchanted by young Zoe, who resembles his previous murder victim Eva and is also played by Janice Man. But Zoe, like Eva, is also the daughter of famous musician Han Tsui (Michael Wong, sporting an acting beard), and Han was instrumental in the young Eugene (played by Shawn Dou in flashbacks) getting sent up the river 20 years back. Han is also super-protective and super-creepy about Zoe Ė he gets pissed that she talks to boys, enquires about her menstruation and beats her up with a ruler for missing a couple of notes on the piano. Eugene may be a disturbed stalker, but his nemesis Han Tsui is obviously not father of the year. Nobody to root for here, is there?
Wrong, you can root for George Lam. No, not that George Lam Ė itís Inspector George Lam, a super-dedicated cop played by grizzled Simon Yam. Lam has his own issues with his neglected daughter (Cherry Ngai), who he continues to neglect when heís assigned to a nasty murder case. A male corpse has been found burned, disfigured and with his teeth knocked out. Some ridiculous DNA testing indicates that the victim is Han Tsui, and soon Eugene is suspect number one. What follows is a supposed ďbattle of witsĒ between Eugene and Lam, but nobody here seems that smart. Eugene leaves mucho clues that heís a stalker and a psycho, and Lam leads the most idiotic cops in the history of cinema. The investigation is procedural to a fault Ė Lamsí team spends inordinate amounts of time staring at evidence and telling each other that this is a clue, and the clue must be connected to the motive because crimes have motives, and if they figure out the motive then they can solve the crime. Itís like the filmmakers watched CSI.
Nightfall has an incredibly obvious script with so much foreshadowing, confirmation of foreshadowing, exposition explaining that confirmation, and finally flashbacks illustrating the exposition that one might wonder why they didnít just write a book instead of making a movie. The thoughtful, somewhat overdone score and solid cinematography help the mood, as do action and chase sequences that possess the brutality and tension that informed the more successful parts of Murderer. Unfortunately, some action sequences (like one taking place on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car on Lantau Island) are nonsensical, and the suspense is deflated by many long scenes of characters conversing with on-the-nose dialogue thatís off-putting to anyone who enjoys a little subtlety. People in Nightfall discuss their thought processes, overexplain their actions, and express what they figured out both before and after the revelation of what they figured out is. Basically, Nightfall just doesnít know when to shut up.
Nightfallís story is spoon-fed to the audience with Christine Toís script explaining every last plot detail and twist verbally, and Roy Chow aids To by blocking out huge sections of time for expository speeches. Murderer was famous for its shark-jumping revelatory speech from a surprise character, and while Nightfall doesnít have as insane a expository set piece, it has multiple long explanations, the climactic one being via a text message(!) that, duh, explains everything. The actual story of Nightfall is actually quite good, with solid revelations and plot twists, and possesses enough mystery to keep audiences hooked. But itís mounted with such literal, energy-sapping obviousness that it becomes galling. Why does everything have to be explained? Why canít the filmmakers let action talk instead of words? And why do so many people in the film keep demanding that the mute guy say something?
Acting here is above standard, with Nick Cheung easily convincing of his intensity. Also, since his character is mute, Cheung is not saddled with the same obvious dialogue as the rest of the cast. Simon Yam is Simon Yam Ė which means heís convincing and professional, if not really noteworthy. Ultimately, Nightfall is well-produced television fare, with great production values and average direction unable to serve a solid story and cover up a poor script. The film sadly lacks Murdererís insane over-the-top badness Ė except when it comes to Michael Wong. The Man Who Would Be Stone overacts unwisely as Han Tsui, mixing his Cantonese and English hilariously and getting so emotionally worked-up that it becomes legitimately frightening. Michael Wong is the cheese-tastic ingredient that makes Nightfall truly memorable Ė so itís both a relief and a shame that he gets so little screentime. As for Roy Chow and Christine To, this is an improvement, however minor, over Murderer.