The film making scene that offered Herman Yau the opportunity to make Category III classics like The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome no longer exists in Hong Kong, but the man continues to plug away and remains active with all kinds of low budget b-film efforts. Even if the fires of his off the wall film making have dimmed and its unlikely we'll see another Taxi Hunter out of the man, I'm kinda' glad his like is still out there. Unfortunately, The First 7th Night is a supernatural suspense tale that, while not horrible, is a mediocre vehicle unlikely to leave much of an impression.
Cabbie Long (Gordon Lam), nicknamed the Mapking, lives out of his cab. His trunk is full of his laundry, he hotplates his meals, the fleet of cabs parked under a dark underpass waiting for fares doubles as his neighborhood and family. Late one night he gets an odd fare in Pony (Julian Cheung), a man driving a truck who needs an escort to a small village which happens to be Long's hometown and the one place he refuses to ferry passengers. But, the money is good, so he takes the job.
As they travel, the two share stories, first through their CB radio, then face to face when Long is forced to ride with Pony after his cab "mysteriously" gets a flat tire. That is, they share the same decades old story of why Long doesn't want to go back to the village. Both tales revolve around Long's mother, Fong (Michelle Ye) and when her restaurant was under siege by four gangsters on the run after a shootout and heist. Both versions have the gangsters turning on each other and the diner set ablaze while the glaring difference is Long's mother's culpability for both.
The First 7th Night is not quite The Hitchhiker and not quite Rashomon. When you boil down the retold story to two perspectives, you run into a lot of trouble, one story is going to lean towards being hokum, the other closer to the truth, and there is no middle ground. I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers, but lets just say that Pony's tale is the one that is probably the truth- it has to be considering the nature of his character- and his story paints Long's mother as a total, watch a man burn and giggle with delight, psychopath. When you are presented with this angle and then expected to feel sympathy for her in the tacked on finale, Herman Yau is asking a lot out of viewers. Its a 180 turn in emotion that the script doesn't earn in its rushed conclusion.
I will give the film credit for surprising me. Initially it looks to be a Hitcher or Road Gamesesque psycho on the road pic, but the areas it skews into aren't very well executed. You've got a bit of supernatural suspense, but the spooks are mild. The gangster stuff is much the same, crooks turning on each other, the bullying boss and his one sycophant henchman, the remaining weasels out to stab everyone in the back. The conventions are so typical, little jump scares, the guns drawn standoff, the enigmatic mystery man, I almost got the feeling Yau wanted to play the scenes as corny but was roped in to be semi-serious or at least genre conventional.
The DVD: Tai Seng.
Here we have a typical low aim, digital video, DTV flick with an appropriate anamorphic transfer. Its fine enough. Every scene is set at night, bouncing from external roadways to the interior restaurant set, and the crepuscular enviorments means lots of shadow and lesser details. Colors are pretty dull and flat with a lean towards warm tones. Technically there appears to be some slight shimmering.
Audio tracks are twofold, Cantonese or Mandarin 5.1 Surround with optional Chinese (traditional and simplified) or English subtitles. Decent stuff especially in terms of scoring bombast but the dialogue and fx atmospherics are a tad underwhelming and not as responsive in the mix. The subs are pretty terrible, filled with Engrish translated phrasings and misspellings, like "chucky" instead of "chubby."
Nothing but a trailer.
The First 7th Night is the kind of film that should be playful and over the top. Instead, it sort of goes through the motions and becomes a b-film that delivers what it thinks easy to please viewers expect instead of surprising and going for the throat or the
black-humored funny bone. The DVD is also a basic affair, so this one is best left off your radar. A lazy rental at best.