Midnight (1987)

Written & directed by: Victor Yeung
Producers: Lui Ming & Lawrence Wong
Starring: Chan Pooi-Kei, Jo Jo Ngan, Charlie Cho, Sam Miu-Ha, Chan Suk-Yee & Eliza Yue

The melodramatic, dark and depressing tale of the hostess girl made its mark commercially in Hong Kong cinema with big time actresses such as Maggie Cheung and Cherie Chung appearing in these tales. Not as adult in tone, that's where Victor Yeung's Midnight comes in. Competent across the board but not hugely affecting, nevertheless the cinema it aims for in effect... has one.

Hsueh (Chan Pooi-Kei) works as a hostess (i.e. the fancier word for prostitute, only she gets to work in a club and not the streets) while being the prime caretaker for her elderly father and her daughter. Sister Angie (Eliza Yue) is more pre-occupied with spending but when Hsueh sustains an injury while also dealing with a looming debt to ex-husband Piao (Charlie Cho), Angie takes on the same profession in order to do the right thing...

There can be such a thing as depressing for the sake of it and the cue for the excessive melodrama is not far off therefore. Yet Midnight walks the line of not being a revolutionary tale for the dramatic sub-genre but also not taking the easy way out. Suitably realistic through location shooting that creates a local Hong Kong effect, Yeung is not shy to show that debt collectors are cruel machines that will ruin limbs and lives if needed. Not high, dramatic art but you might find yourself wincing at some of the situations while also nursing a feeling of unease.

Taking its time too rather than throwing exploitation, violence and nudity at us in a desperate move, when characters do enter a place of sensual harmony, Yeung's camera reflects this as he takes the time to stage worthwhile softcore stretches. Mostly aiming for the classical downward spiral drama, engagement in the atmosphere and for the fact that you care enough for our sister duo at hand, Yeung further destroys our characters through Charlie Cho's performance.

Playing a genuinely unpleasant character that rapes Hsueh during her daughter's birthday party, all this misery that drives Midnight surprisingly doesn't become sensory overload. The story is familiar and predictable once you get the sense of where Yeung clearly is taking the characters but competent filmmaking is very much present. Culminating in a violent finale that further adds to that minor sinking feeling you had in your stomach before. It could've been deemed manipulative but Yeung never plays that card. Keeping his work reserved generates the best effect. Even if not classic effect.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson