HKMDB Daily News

February 9, 2014

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”

(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.

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.

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)


February 8, 2014

The Midnight After (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 4:55 pm

The Midnight After
8 February, 2014
By Flossie Topping

The Midnight After is a quirky apocalyptic horror from Hong Kong indie director Fruit Chan, who returns to the Panorama section after his success with Dumplings, which premiered in 2005.

Adapting the web-series turned best-selling novel Lost On A Red Mini Bus To Tai Po by a writer who goes by the pen name “Pizza”, we follow 17 Hong Kongers as they travel by night bus to Tai Po, a market town on the outskirts of the city. Things become mysterious when the bus passes through a tunnel, and emerges into a completely deserted street. The group soon starts to question whether they may be the last 17 people alive.

Set against a backdrop of neon lights and whizzing traffic, Chan and cinematographer Lam Wah-tsuen successfully capture the bustling city in all its glory. However, it is the diversity of characters that make the film so engaging, trapping together a potbellied gambler (Lam Suet) a cokehead (Sam Lee, Made in Hong Kong) and a psychic insurance saleswoman (Kara Hui), to discuss their fate in an abandoned Michelin-starred restaurant.

Black comedy comes in bursts when the characters start to be killed off in odd circumstances, some contracting the plague and others simply turning to stone and crumbling into dust. Odder still, the group find that the only clue that they’ve been given from their enemy is the lyrics to David Bowie’s Space Oddity, sent to them in Morse code on their phones.

Fans of Chan’s will warm to his unique sense of humour and many pop culture references, such as having his characters play Candy Crush and air guitar with a mop, but to a wider audience, the randomness of events and gratuitous violence may leave them pining for a more fixed genre or plot structure. The Midnight After may be best suited to a domestic audience.

In his earlier films, Chan made numerous references to Hong Kong’s relationship to China and its burgeoning identity. This too, carries on with that theme, delivering a distinct local flavor whilst also throwing in commentary about Hong Kong’s zombie-like masses and the lasting effects of the SARS virus and the 2011 nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. During the film we are told “Hong Kong doesn’t do sci-fi”, but Chan has successfully defied genre conventions here.

Production companies: The Midnight After Film Production, One Ninety Films Co.

International sales: Fortissimo Films

Producer: Amy Chin

Executive producers: Winnie Tsang, Fruit Chan

Screenplay: Chan Fai-hung, Kong Ho-yan, Fruit Chan, based on the novel “Lost on a Red Minibus to Taipo,” by Pizza

Cinematography: Lam Wah-tsuen

Editors: TinSupFat, ToTo

Production designer: Andrew Wong

Music: Ellen Loo, Veronica Lee

Cast: Wong You-nam, Janice Man, Simon Yam, Kara Hui, Chui Tien-you, Lam Suet, Cheuk Wan-chi, Lee Sheung-ching, Sam Lee, Cherry Ngan, Melodee Mak, Jan Curious, Ronny Yuen, Kelvin Chan, Endy Chow
Screen Daily

The Midnight After (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 2:42 pm

The Midnight After
2/7/2014 by David Rooney

The Bottom Line
The chaotic transition of Hong Kong is fodder for suspense- and scare-free horror in this tiresome comic strip of urban cataclysm.

Seventeen random souls are thrown together in a public transport vehicle that somehow gets spared when the rest of humanity vanishes in Fruit Chan’s genre blender.

Fruit Chan made his name as a director with a series of provocative independent films in the late 1990s that commented on the handover of Hong Kong sovereignty to China. But he stumbles with The Midnight After, an indigestible post-apocalyptic stir-fry that sacrifices any sociopolitical allegory about reunified Hong Kong and its place in 21st century Asia to wild tonal inconsistency and clumsy genre mishmash. Adapted from a popular novel about the last 17 people in a suddenly vacated city inhabited by millions, this toxic mess works neither as broad satirical comedy nor as sci-fi horror, which are the two stylistic camps where it loiters longest.

The source material, Lost on a Red Minibus to Tai Po, originated as serialized web fiction by an anonymous writer who goes by the pen name Pizza, before being published as a novel in 2012. The appearance of the word “lost” in the title may be a nod to the ABC television series of that name, given that the characters find themselves in an alternate universe full of malevolent threats and disorienting dreams of pre-disaster life, seemingly with an inexplicable time lapse. But the mysteries as depicted here are too convoluted to invite much scrutiny.

Chan and cinematographer Lam Wah-tsuen effectively capture the human cacophony of one of the world’s most densely populated areas in a fast-motion opening that provides a quick glimpse of the key characters in frenetically cut establishing scenes.

A slobby loudmouth gambler (Lam Suet) gets a late-night call to fill in for a minibus driver friend on a route to Tai Po, a former market town turned new community. His passengers are played by a mix of Chan regulars, veteran Hong Kong actors and new-generation stars. The group includes a cokehead, a bickering married couple, a blowhard failed gangster, a fortune-telling insurance broker, a tech expert, a vintage vinyl dealer, an incognito thief, a bottle-blond pretty boy stood up by his girlfriend, a matching female counterpart and a handful of college students.

The first bad omen is an accident they pass in which a couple that almost boarded the bus has been killed. But the major mind-bender occurs when they travel through a tunnel and all the other traffic vanishes, emerging on the other side to find a ghost town. Phone signals are dead, Internet activity has frozen, and as panic mounts among the passengers, the fortune-teller (Kara Hui) starts spouting theories about having entered the Photon Belt, where their destinies are now intertwined.

The loss of spirituality, the escalation of economic instability, the squandering of cultural wealth, the emergence of a drug-addled “zombie” race, disillusionment with the political system, distrust of technology and depersonalization of society are among the countless half-baked themes touched upon as people start combusting or crumbling like rocks. Not to mention raping and maiming.

The chief clues about their limbo come from an unknown caller’s coded message that links to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a song then heard multiple times, evoking space travel and imperiled isolation; and the appearance of a young Japanese man in a gas mask, who summons associations with the SARS epidemic and makes oblique references to the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. But rather than solving the enigma, the film is more concerned with acknowledging all that’s at risk of being lost in the relentless march forward, suggesting not just traditional laws and ethics but ultimately humanity itself.

With a more controlled director at the helm, that strand might have acquired some poignancy. But The Midnight After is all over the place, lurching from goofball comedy to pulpy horror to mawkish melodrama as young leads Wong You-nam and Janice Man mentally revisit their romances. Even with a fuller understanding of all the local references, this would doubtless still be an overblown, noisy, curiously inept movie from a filmmaker who shows only fleeting command of the material.

Early on, one of the minibus passengers warns that splitting up is how folks get killed in horror movies, while later, somebody remarks that Hong Kong doesn’t do sci-fi. But there’s precious little wit in the film’s attempt to upend genre conventions. The most interesting thing about it is seeing vast expanses of the digitally evacuated city, an image that says a lot more than any of the yappy characters.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special)
Production companies: The Midnight After Film Production, One Ninety Films Co.
Cast: Wong You-nam, Janice Man, Simon Yam, Kara Hui, Chui Tien-you, Lam Suet, Cheuk Wan-chi, Lee Sheung-ching, Sam Lee, Cherry Ngan, Melodee Mak, Jan Curious, Ronny Yuen, Kelvin Chan, Endy Chow
Director: Fruit Chan
Screenwriters: Chan Fai-hung, Kong Ho-yan, Fruit Chan, based on the novel “Lost on a Red Minibus to Taipo,” by Pizza
Producer: Amy Chin
Executive producer: Winnie Tsang, Fruit Chan
Director of photography: Lam Wah-tsuen
Production designer: Andrew Wong
Music: Ellen Loo, Veronica Lee
Costume designer: Phoebe Wong
Editors: TinSupFat, ToTo
Sales: Fortissimo Films
No rating, 123 minutes

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