It only takes three things to make a good movie: an interesting and engaging story, well-drawn characters, and skillful execution. The trick is not mistaking twist endings, mysterious pasts, and meticulous misdirection and obfuscation to be the same thing. On the surface, the new Chinese thriller Nightfall is about two men, playing an elaborate cat-and-mouse game around a family's buried secrets, but in truth, all the director and screenwriter have to offer here is the frustrating cat-and-mouse game they've laid out between the audience and the details.
The premise: When world-famous concert pianist Han Tsui (Michael Wong) turns up dead, Detective George Lam (Simon Yam) is called in to investigate. He interviews the family for clues as to who might have killed Han, but Mrs. Tsui (On-on Yu) is antsy and nervous, and Han's daughter, Zoe (Janice Man) hardly appears to react at all. Lam digs a little deeper and discovers a fascinating connection: 20 years earlier, Han and Mrs. Tsui had another daughter who was brutally murdered by Wong Yuen-yeung (Nick Cheung) just after Zoe was born. Coinicidentally, Wong was recently released from prison. For a moment, Lam thinks he has a prime suspect, but there's more to the story than he realizes.
"There's more to the story than he realizes" is prety much the entirety of Nightfall. After 50 minutes of mind-numbing blandness, it suddenly struck me that for all that had occurred, I could count the things I'd learned about the characters that I didn't know when they were introduced on less than one hand. Nightfall represents the worst type of artificial tension, dragging each reveal out until all there is at the end of the tunnel is reveals, and perfunctory ones too. If a film isn't driven along by the kinds of details that the filmmakers of Nightfall are intentionally withholding, then it's not really a film at all.
In terms of direction, Chow Hin Yeung is clearly riding the coattails of Oldboy even before we get a montage of Wong training himself during his prison stint. Classical music scores the reveals, but Yeung is striving for a classiness that he can't achieve. Certain flashback sequences are shot with an ugly blown-out contrast that feels more like a disc error than an artistic decision. Others have an old-fashioned fading-film appearance, but there isn't any obvious artistic motivation behind the difference. In other scenes, he plays lazy directorial tricks: a character rings the doorbell of a police officer, then hides in a manner only possible through the limited viewpoint of a camera. The one stand-out sequence takes place inside a suspended glass tram high over the forest, which is actually so visually and stylistically interesting it feels wasted on this movie.
At the core of the film, however, are two characters who are fundamentally uninteresting. Even setting aside (as much as one can) that the film deliberately withholds details that might allow the audience to sympathize or empathize with Lam or Wong, Nightfall is too mired in cop / killer cliches to be engaging. Will the misunderstood killer finally get his side of the story out? Will the determined cop pushing against his bitter superiors discover a deeper mystery? Nightfall poses these questions, but not until the audience has posed their own: who cares?
I'm not sure what the poster artist for Nightfall was going for here, but the key art for the film looks like the kind of thing you'd find on DeviantArt, with weird filders and shading creating a fairly garish image. The disc comes in a standard Vortex Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Hmm. On one hand, the faults of this 2.35:1 1080p AVC presentation could be intentional, but the film certainly looks pretty ugly on home video. The film opens with a garish blown-out sequence with searing whites and crushed blacks. Night scenes (of which there are many) are frustratingly limp, with a bland blue tone rather than a range of tones and gradients. Some banding and aliasing is noticeable from time to time, but fine detail is pretty good. Cantonese DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is equally middling, with those flat, lifeless sound effects that have come to define home video mixes. Although there's a degree of separation and surround activity, the track is never particularly realistic or enveloping, taking away from the film's atmosphere. English subtitles are provided.
One extensive extra: a making-of documentary (47:42 -- encoded in HD, but looks like SD). I have to admit that I generally find Asian making-of documentaries to be overly dry, and this is no exception, but fans of the film should probably appreciate this extensive peek behind-the-scenes, which balances out its over-use of film clips with plenty of B-roll.
Trailers for Tai Chi Hero, New World, and Kill 'Em All play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Nightfall is also included.
Skip it. Aside from one stunning sequence, Nightfall is a painfully rote thriller that generates suspense by cheating rather than carefully pushing the audience's buttons.
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