Chinese Midnight Express 2 (2000)
Directed by: Kant Leung
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Those few admirers of Billy Tang's Chinese Midnight Express certainly weren't screaming sequel as soon as the former film had done its thing. Far from original or accomplished, Tang's assured hand and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's solid performance helped one get through Chinese Midnight Express easily though. The film's co-writer and supporting actor Lee Siu-Kei did eventually decide that it was time to make another prison story, this time hiring the serviced of another A-list actor, Francis Ng, with relative unknown Kant Leung (The Demon's Baby, Sexy And Dangerous 2) in the directing chair. Once again, Ringo Lam's Prison On Fire need not feel threatened as Leung's stand alone continuation here is an awful exercise in familiarity.
Sentenced to 9 months imprisonment after assaulting a police officer, barrister Chan Siu Hong (Ng) is known amongst criminals as someone who is dedicating himself to their cases. His time in prison seems to lean towards breezy therefore but the wardens, led by Piranha (Lung Fong) are out to make his life a living hell. Even going as far as targeting his family...
This story template has never ceased to be devoid of opportunities but it was really Ringo Lam that made it fly in 1987 with his classic, gritty prison drama Prison On Fire. Chinese Midnight Express 2 brings up the all mighty expected questions of law and justice in the face of morality, corruption. Basically nothing is fair in Lee Siu-Kei's written vision this time and his reflections are once again of a past baaaaad prison system as the he tells us in person during the intro. If any actual visionary of greater proportions had been brought on board, maybe something substantial and valid would've come out of Chinese Midnight Express 2. Many aspects quickly point to the fact that it ain't gonna happen!
I should've smelled trouble early on since this comes from the director of The Demon's Baby and from Wong Jing's production company but as a Francis Ng fan and the fact that both of these films got name talent as leads, it's also a minor investment to take a chance on. Clearly shot on the cheap with one particular set clearly doubling for multiple ones and most of the time coming off as poor TV-melodrama (the cinematography does its best to enhance that), without style one relies on writing and performing and it's already here Lee Siu-Kei's limitations shows. Rather than build on the portrayal of a corrupt 1960s prison system, Lee copies every cliché in the book hoping it would get him somewhere. Now with a hack director like Kant Leung at the helm, it's no wonder that results are stale all over with this written template in mind.
Attempts at providing back stories are just your usual brief anecdotes of character's wrongdoings and doesn't equal substance for one bit. It doesn't end here as pace is dreadful, directing sloppy, with some events playing fast and loose with time. For fans of sleazy cinema, the introduction of William Ho (far from his nominated performance in Prison On Fire) livens up very briefly but you still needs some form of visionary at the wheel (see Brother Of Darkness) and Ho on autopilot is a dull thang. If any kudos had to be handed out, it actually does go to Lee Siu-Kei as he makes Francis Ng's Chan Siu Hong a bonafide idolized main character by the prisoners as opposed to the bullied victim as these things go but feelings of that slight originality expectedly vanishes quickly beneath the amateurish filmmaking. Once could always hope that when danger is closing in on our characters that the film would still end up on a high note violence-wise. You know the answer to that if you've read this far...
So what is Francis Ng doing in C-grade cinema such as this then? Ask Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Yam or Anthony Wong the same question and you would hear "grab every opportunity to work!". Many of the clunkers those guys were in at least benefited from some glimpse of trademark acting mannerisms but Ng is seemingly stuck without guidance of any kind. It's a boat he steers himself brought on by boredom, leading to some really out of place subtle quirky mannerisms and expressions belonging to other performances of his. I don't blame him. Elvis Tsui and Tats Lau appear in support.
What Chinese Midnight Express 2 does prove (aside from being an unnecessary venture), when looking back at the first movie is that Billy Tang probably deserves a whole lot more kudos than given credit for as he took seemingly tired material and made it bearable. He also guided lead Tony Leung Chiu-Wai into a performing mood that at least meant some form of leading man presence. Francis Ng can't do anything this time to get a movie out of the gutter. Kant Leung, please don't direct anything else ever!
Universe presents the film in a 1.80:1 aspect ratio approximately. Light print damage turns up but the transfer is muted, a little bit soft and registers a bit dark in places. Sharpness remains decent throughout.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track presents the dialogue clearly but is rather eventless overall. A Mandarin 2.0 track is also available.
The English subtitles do come with a good amount of spelling errors but generally comes through in a coherent manner. Bahasa Malaysian, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
Extras consist of a short Star File for Francis Ng and trailers for Chinese Midnight Express 2, Purple Storm, Gen-X Cops and The Masked Prosecutor.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson