The film is visually impressive, boasts a distinctive and attractive soundtrack, features an interesting and cool story and is supported by a cast of strong actors.
Normally I like to use the original title in my reviews (or at least the transliteration of the original title), but in the case of Fruit Chan's Hollywood Hong Kong) latest feature Na Yeh Ling San, Ngo Joa Seung Liu Wong Gok Hoi Wong Dai Bou Dik Hung Van it would become just a little too ridiculous, so instead I'll just be sticking with The Midnight After.
I've seen my share of Fruit Chan films through the years and even though I certainly didn't like all of them, his films are always worth a gamble. Even when one of them fails to engage there's always something to like or admire. The Midnight After is a kind of culmination of everything he has done before, yet at the same time it feels like a completely new direction for Chan.
Based on an online novel, The Midnight After is part sci-fi, part mystery. Not a very popular or common combination for a Hong Kong film. The film starts like many of its American counterparts, with a random group of people meeting on a bus, only to be transported to some mysterious, alternate version of Hong Kong a little while later. In their universe, all people have disappeared, apart from a cloaked figure wearing a gas mask who follows them around. It's a typical setup for a horror flick (think Reeker), but that's when things start to get a bit weird.
Chan's characters aren't your usual horror fodder though. They are more aware, quickly citing possible scenarios that could've been used as the film's twist ending (like "we had an accident and we're in a limbo between life and death"). He doesn't stick to one particular genre either, adding post-apocalyptic elements, some lighter comedy bits and some genuine weirdness (the Major Tom scene). And if you think it'll all make sense in the end, you're in for a neat little surprise (or disappointment if you really need closure).
The Midnight After is a film that breaks with many genre traditions, instead focusing on its group of characters and building a boundless film around them. Actors like Simon Yam, Kara Hui and Lam Suet put in a decent effort, while You-Nam Wong fares well as the film's lead. The film isn't 100% serious (even though some scenes are quite nasty to watch) so you'll have to deal with the typical Hong Kong overacting from time to time, but that's only to be expected.
Fruit Chan's latest is a peculiar film. It doesn't stick to one single genre, it doesn't really compare to other films (even though it draws inspiration from many different genres), it doesn't even strife for a homogeneous atmosphere. Instead it's a flamboyant trip that reflects the many aspects of current-day Hong Kong and makes sure to trip up the viewer wherever possible. There are some moments of genius here, at other times the film fails to truly engage. But whatever you'll be thinking when you walk out of it, it's definitely worth a shot as it is one of the more unique films I've seen all year.
Sequel to the famous horror anthology that repeats the setup of the original and brings together three respected directors from three different Asian countries. Takashi Miike represents Japan, Fruit Chan is there for Hong Kong and Chan-wook Park is the South-Korean delegate. It's also my order of preference.
Miike's short is by far the most eye-popping. Though Miike has a reputation for being weird and extreme, Box is quite the opposite. It's a very subdued, stylish and classy short that demonstrates once again there's really nothing Miike can't do. If he had expanded this to a full-length feature, it would no doubt be one of his very best films.
Chan's Dumplings is a nasty little short that looks gorgeous (thanks to the help of Christopher Doyle), but works better in its feature-length form. Finally, there's Park's entry, the only big disappointment of this anthology. Not that I expected a lot, but it comes off really bland and uninspired compared to the other two. Still, if you're looking for a neat and varied horror project, you can't really go wrong with this one.
Commissioned anthology that was made to lift the spirit of Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic. The who's who of Hong Kong cinema participated, but the result is a little uneven. Not too surprising considering the exterior motives behind this anthology, and there are a couple of worthwhile entries, but overall it's probably best to lower your expectations when watching this.
A fine but somewhat inconspicuous drama. The kids are pretty adorable and the cinematography is well above average, even so the drama felt a little too expected. Little Cheung kept my attention and there are some moments where the quality spikes, but overall I wasn't too invested, which isn't ideal for this type of film.
A very capable early Fruit Chan film, that doesn't deliver on its horror premise (on par for most mainstream HK horror), but at least serves up a decent story. Chan's direction is also well above average and while the actors aren't quite perfect, they do a good enough job. Not an ultimate classic, but Chan's talent is already on display here.
Worthy but flawed
Complex mix of genres that never establishes a solid bottom line. The story is convoluted and with much effort spent on telling and explaining, not much time is left to worry about the atmosphere. It's not like the film lacks potential, there are some interesting bits and pieces, it just lacks coherence.
Fruit Chan is a true Hong Kong veteran, even so this film feels like it was made by a freshman with a lot to learn still. The action is clunky, performances are weak and the pacing issues are plentiful. It's difficult to imagine someone with Chan's history would make something so sloppy. Not quite the worst of its kind, but no doubt a big disappointment.