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February 9, 2014

That Demon Within (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 4:42 pm

That Demon Within
9 February, 2014
By Fionnuala Halligan

Dir: Dante Lam. Hong Kong-China. 2014. 112mins

Dante Lam conjures up an inferno in That Demon Within (Mo Jing) a dark twisted trip through one Hong Kong cop’s explosive meltdown. Possessed by the afterlife, Lam’s story plays out in funeral parlours and graveyards where the director’s action and special effects coordinators go about setting the city on fire.

Although it opts for a tricksy narrative with fussy flash-backs and hallucinations delivered in the widest-possible variety of styles, That Demon Within is bleak at its core, a dark, hopeless tale of death, corruption and mental illness shadowed by spectres. Dante Lam is a towering box office presence in Southeast Asia and with Daniel Wu in the lead opposite regular player Nick Cheung the Hong Kong director will test his audience’s appetite for an introspective thriller that blends kinetic action with Taoist superstition when it opens on April 18.

Despite a slightly opaque and somewhat overblown narrative, That Demon Within is a professionally executed production, laden with impressive special effects shots and bone-crunching violence. Some set pieces are particularly innovative, and Lam’s visual manifestations of mental illness are striking. Like Infernal Affairs, two male characters on opposing sides of the good/evil tightwalk lead the charge: Wu as troubled policeman Dave Wong and Nick Cheung as his nemesis, Hon Kong, leader of “the gang from Hell”.

When Hon is injured in a chase during which he murders two policemen, he winds up at the hospital policed by Wong. Not realising who Hon is, the cop donates blood to save his life, an event which begins to tear apart Wong’s carefully constructed world and shatter his all-important beliefs in right and wrong.

It turns out the upright Wong is a copper with a particularly fiery past, and as the dreams, hallucinations and flashbacks mount up, so does the body count - gangsters, family members, policemen, scores of civilians; at times it looks as if nobody in Hong Kong is going to get out of this fast-and-furious film alive.

Much of That Demon Within takes place in the dark including several key action sequences and meetings in the Kowloon Funeral Parlour with “the Gang From Hell”, Hon’s group of robber-killers who use the mask of The Demon King as disguise. Such an extensive use of graveyards, funeral paraphernalia and effigies is unusual for a Hong Kong action film, and may test the superstitious in home markets.

The tortured Wong, meanwhile, is helped by his superintendent and her psychiatrist sister while his efforts to look after his “granny” are prompted by a level of guilt that threatens to crack his fragile psyche, and the film, apart. That Demon Within boasts an inexhaustible visual energy; Dante Lam never lets up and the effects within a single hypnosis montage with its floating scenarios and twisting perspectives, for example, are beyond the scope of many of his Western counterparts across an entire film.

Production companies: Emperor Film Production Company, Sil-Metropole Organisation Limited
International sales: Emperor Motion Pictures, enquiry.emp@emperorgroup.com
Producers: Candy Leung, Albert Lee, Ren Yue
Executive producers: Albert Yeung, Song Dai
Co-producers: Cheung Hong-tat, Stephen Lam
Screenplay: Jack Ng, Dante Lam
Cinematography: Kenny Tse
Editor: Patrick Tam
Production designer: Lee Kin-wai
Music: Leon Ko

Main cast: Daniel Wu, Nick Cheung, Christie Chen, Andy On, Liu Kai-chi, Lam Kar-wah, Lee Kwok-lun, Stephen Au, Chi Kuan-chun
Screen Daily

The Midnight After (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 3:11 pm

The Midnight After
FEBRUARY 8, 2014
Maggie Lee

Fruit Chan makes a delirious return to form with this macabre action-thriller.

A Hong Kong without traffic jams and crowds is a phenomenon eerier than any alien invasion or zombie outbreak, and it’s what the passengers of a minibus have to cope with when they find themselves the survivors of a strange pandemic in “The Midnight After,” a deliriously high-concept and gleefully low-budget horror-comedy that mourns the dissolution of the city’s core values since its handover to China in 1997. Maverick helmer Fruit Chan (“Made in Hong Kong,” “Durian Durian”) bends genre like it’s putty in his hands, distilling the macabre from the everyday and making the apocalyptic seem absurdly matter-of-fact. Fest play is assured, and ancillary prospects in overseas Asian-friendly niches look hopeful.

Since the wickedly grotesque “Dumplings” (2004), the once-prolific Chan has dabbled in short and medium-length films that suggested he might have lost his creative edge. But by adapting Pizza’s “Lost on a Minibus From Mongkok to Taipo,” a Web novel that went viral, Chan has found an ideal vehicle for his deep affinity for his city’s culture. Referencing everything from SARS to “cha chaan teng” (local diners), and even a veiled connection between Fukushima and the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in neighboring Shenzhen, “The Midnight After” reps a hodgepodge of what defines the Hong Kong experience. Blithely unconcerned with subtlety, coherence or the Chinese market, the film sizzles with untranslatable colloquial wisecracks, trenchant social satire, and an ensemble cast of character actors and young up-and-comers at their freaky best. A mercurial ride that is decidedly outside the mainstream, it should nonetheless delight genre aficionados and bonafide fans of Hong Kong cinema.

While playing mahjong, porky minibus driver Suet (Johnnie To regular Lam Suet) gets called in to cover a friend’s night shift from Mongkok to Tai Po, in exchange for deferred payment of a debt. At 2:28 a.m., the red, 16-seat vehicle is filled up and sets out from Kowloon’s busiest urban center for the satellite town in the New Territories. While passing through a tunnel, they sense something is amiss, and sure enough, when they emerge on the other sides, the roads are empty and their destination has become a ghost town.

Four college students become the first of the travelers to succumb to the invisible virus that’s killed everyone else in the city; once the reality of what’s happened dawns on the remaining 13 passengers, some offer interpretations ranging from the improbable to the ridiculous. Their reactions subtly reveal different personal traits, as when the clairvoyant Sister Ying (Kara Hui, insidiously controlling) slips a life-insurance sales pitch into her Photon Belt prophecy.

Cool-headed programmer Shun (Chui Tien-you) manages to decode a mysterious siren that they’ve all heard on their cell phones, cuing a sidesplitting rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” by an onboard dweeb (played by Jan Curious, vocalist for the math-rock band Chochukmo). The performance of the 1969 song not only serves as the film’s comic high point but also underscores its themes of exile and death, capturing the estrangement that Hong Kong residents often feel from their rapidly changing homeland.

As the characters disperse and regroup, Chan exploits the mass-panic scenario for farce as well as terror, with an original mash-up of epidemic/zombie/sci-fi horror elements that makes “Contagion” and the “REC” franchise look square by comparison. Dream sequences and spooky visions further add to the surreal atmosphere, and the revelation of each character’s dark side culminates in a highly political message about the loss of morality and compassion following a critical transition, as symbolized by their passing through the tunnel. Chan leavens the heavier dialogue scenes with a few punchy action sequences en route to a big-bang finish at once funny, sad, allegorical and provocatively open-ended.

It’s hard to invest such a large raft of characters with much psychological depth or backstory, but the actors manage to come across as quirky yet believably ordinary. Simon Yam stands out as a scuzzy hood, while Chan fixture Sam Lee is always on hand to lighten thing up as a stupefied cokehead. A pleasant surprise is actress-model Janice Man, who morphs from blandly pretty at the outset to skin-crawling by film’s end.

Chan, who’s known for his frugal production values, again makes every penny count, packaging cheap sci-fi elements with high camp, and generating shivers with a mix of real interiors and unglamorous street scenery. His regular d.p. Lam Wah-tsuen handled the guerrilla-style handheld camerawork, complemented by oppressive sound design and edgy music.

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Midnight After’
Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 7, 2014. Running time: 123 MIN. Original title: “Na ye ling san ngor jor seung liu wongkok hoi wong daibo dik hung van”

Production
(Hong Kong) A Golden Scene Co. release of a Golden Scene Co., the Film Development Fund of Hong Kong presentation of a Midnight After Film Prod., One Ninety Films production in association with Sun Entertainment Culture. (International sales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Amy Chin. Executive producer, Winnie Tsang, Fruit Chan.

Crew
Directed by Fruit Chan. Screenplay, Chan Fai-hung, Kong Ho-yan, Chan, based on the web novel “Lost on a Minibus From Mongkok to Taipo” by Pizza. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Lam Wah-tsuen; editors, Tin Sup Fat, Toto; music, Ellen Loo, Veronica Lee; production designer, Andrew Wong; costume designer, Phoebe Wong; sound (Dolby Surround 5.1), Benny Chu; visual effects, Different Digital Design; stunt choreographer, Jack Wong; associate producer, Alex Dong; assistant directors, Chan Wai-keung, Nikki Lau.

With
Lam Suet, Simon Yam, Kara Hui, Chui Tien-you, Wong You-nam, Janice Man, Sam Lee, Jan Curious, Vincci Cheuk, Lee Sheung-ching, Cherry Ngan, Kelvin Chan, Endy Chow, Melody Mak. (Cantonese dialogue)

Variety

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