The Longest Nite (1998)
Directed by: Patrick Yau
Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards
Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society
Now here's an interesting chapter out of Milkyway's production history, the one concerning Patrick Yau. Starting out with an assistant directing gig on Johnnie To's Lifeline, Yau was subsequently promoted to sole director duty on The Odd One Dies followed by the film at hand here and Expect The Unexpected. All three widely acclaimed but Yau wasn't heard from until he resurfaced with The Loser's Club in 2001 (his last directed film to date). An effort met with little enthusiasm, especially critically. Now why is all this interesting? It's obviously not official but word is that producer and overall creative force at Milkyway, Johnnie To, directed substantial parts of Patrick Yau's Milkyway output. It apparently led to a complete falling out between Yau and To as the former was replaced on the set of Where A Good Man Goes. Details as to why this falling out happened are unclear but regardless Yau did get credit on three of the films and the utterly bleak The Longest Nite stands as a Milkyway production of high caliber.
Macau, a melting pot for triads and rivalry. Arriving is Tony (Lau Ching Wan), carrying one bag, and knowing exactly what the night holds in store. There's a chance meeting between him and bad cop Sam (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) at a restaurant and without knowing it, Tony has begun orchestrating a very elaborate plan for Sam that will take place during this long night...
There's heap of praise to be lauded upon The Longest Nite but I do have to address some of my, albeit fairly minor, quibbles with the film. Yau Nai-Hoi and Szeto Kam-Yuen's script manages to pack quite a lot of events and characters into the short running time but skillfully ties it all together into coherency (via small voice-overs and non-intrusive exposition at times). I do feel that the script is almost too clever though or rather the action and characters within it are. The setup of Sam and the twists that occur are the stuff of criminal masterminds but almost borders on silliness in its perfection at times. It can detract a little, in particular towards and at the very end. Ultimately, it doesn't in the long run hurt the hard hitting, relentless and violent ride that is The Longest Nite.
I'm going to ignore the Johnnie To "ghost-directing" aspect to the film, since it is indeed Patrick Yau who is the director of credit, when we're now going to talk about that area of production. I went into The Longest Nite with high expectations, wasn't particularly disappointed but you tend to think that there's not much greatness on display at the beginning. Triad conflicts as a plot point in Hong Kong films have been seen countless times but Yau and the script layed before him involves via sly hints at what's coming. It's a plot structure that's going to evolve right up till the very end we sense and drawn out shots such as Tony dialing a number are clear hints at something crucial. Not all viewers may be receptive of this drawn out storytelling but the great films are there to interest you all the way. The Longest Nite does that by dropping in those kinds of images and it's not tedious wait at all before the movie REALLY ignites. We're at the 25 minute mark when sequence upon sequence are thrown at us causing us to divide our mind between confusion and interest, with emphasize on the latter. As mentioned, it's clearly a film where we're not supposed to have a heads up as to where the plot is going.. We're merely spectators of a vicious triad war, taking place in a short span of time.
Yau gives us an edgy atmosphere with absolute zero to sympathize with. That's not negative at all because it's not about feeling for anyone of these people. No honorable criminals taken from John Woo's films can be found here but the viewer should be into The Longest Nite to watch, not feel and that works equally well. Raymond Wong's score, particularly during the restaurant scene, almost makes the atmosphere border on comedy though but throughout, despite filling the entire running time almost, the music is well conceived for the grim mood of the film. Some main cues can also be heard in A Hero Never Dies, another Raymond Wong scored Milkyway production. The Longest Nite reaches its status as a Milkyway classic as the intensity is turned up big time by Yau. Again, it could've been easy to get lost in the twists and turn but despite the pace of events, there's great focus on what's going on but obviously you need to be prepared as a viewer to take a lot in, in regards to character motivations and relationships.
During the screening, you begin to wonder if some character depth should've come with The Longest Nite. We actually get no such thing but considering that the film does take place in such a limited period of time, the filmmakers choice of establishing people in a basic, mysterious or harsh ways is suitable for this story. For instance, in the case of Sam, it's enough to know that he's a bad cop, going to extreme lengths to get what he wants. Speaking of unsympathetic, the two scenes of violence towards Maggie Shaw's character are not going to sit well with some of you but the filmmakers wouldn't have done if it didn't have a purpose in the long run. I don't see any other way of conveying this stuff and going into its reasons anymore wouldn't be beneficial for this spoiler free review. It's again not a film that will cater to your sympathy and you as a viewer have to decide for yourself whether you can enjoy a film on that level.
A quick not about the action choreography in the film. Yuen Bun does appear in the film but for once someone else is handling the action duty, namely Wu Chi-Lung (co action-directed A Chinese Ghost Story). With Milkyway films such as The Mission, we've seen a different, slow paced, hypnotic style to gunplay but films like this one and To's A Hero Never Dies has nicely taken the ballistic nature of Hong Kong gunplay of yesteryears and made it a solid part of late 90s filmmaking. The character confrontation towards the end of The Longest Nite is a good, well-made set piece to warrant that praise upon late 90s gunplay.
Performances are good all around and you need a tough exterior and charisma to main characters. Not surprisingly, by casting Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Lau Ching Wan (sporting a totally badass shaved head) you almost have that demand guaranteed. Not disappointing performances in any way. I like some of the playful but definitely ultra dark traits to Lau's character in particular and fans of Tony expecting a cute, cuddly character may want to think again as he uses extreme violence towards some people in this film. Maggie Shaw, Lam Suet and Mark Cheng also appear, among others.
Whatever problems there were between Patrick Yau and Johnnie To, Milkyway could proudly add another high quality (with a nasty edge to it) crime thriller to their roster with The Longest Nite. The creative forces within the company had better visions and less laziness and with it produced some of the best Hong Kong cinema had to offer during this period in time. A unavoidable creative slump occurred for a few years but it seems like Milkyway are slowly getting Hong Kong peoples trust back again in 2004 as we've been seeing ever so slightly more consistent and challenging products from them.
Universe's 2.35:1 framed presentation looks good but not exceptional. The print is clean and colourful but the softness is distracting making the picture less detailed than I wanted.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese track works well, using music in the front speakers to good effect. As with other Hong Kong films, even new ones, the sound effects sound less than stellar but does the job decently. One small voice over is missing from the Cantonese track but appears in the subtitles (and on the Mandarin track) and music drowns out the dialogue almost on a few occasions. There is also more post synced dialogue than expected for such a recent film but that doesn't distract as such. A Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.
The English subtitles has a few spelling errors but does a good job of conveying the fairly complex plot. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
A few video extras are included (none of them has subtitles), starting with the Premiere Show (2 minutes, 21 seconds). It briefly shows the stars arriving (including Simon Yam, Lau Ching Wan's co-star in Expect The Unexpected) and them saying a few words to the camera. Not too much for non-Chinese speakers to take in. The Making of (10 minutes) features cast & crew interviews, lots and lots of movie clips and again little else to enjoy for non-Chinese speakers.
Ng Footage (2 minutes, 28 seconds) is more heavy on multiple takes than bloopers but has a few fun shots, including Lau Ching Wan doing the windshield bit in the car scene. Press Conference (6 minutes, 16 seconds) is the best piece as it shows Lau Ching Wan getting his head shaved (and looking very uncomfortable doing so) by none other than Johnnie To. A good way of getting the buzz going for the film and its box office numbers I think turned out to be pretty decent. This program also has small interview segments with Johnnie To and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Lau Ching Wan.
Universe's standard extras then finishes the package. Star's Files for Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Lau Ching Wan, Johnnie To & Patrick Yau are fairly informative but tends to tell us more what films the people did rather than actually provide solid information. The trailer for The Longest Nite also appears.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson