Midnight Fly (2001)

Produced & directed by: Jacob Cheung
Written by: Tang Tsz Chun
Starring: Anita Mui, Junna Risa, Simon Yam & Shaun Tam

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nominations at the Hong Film Awards 2002:
Best Supporting Actor (Simon Yam)
Best Original Score (Shigeru Umebayashi)

Michele (Anita Mui) is on the brink of divorce and sets out on a trip to ponder her life situation. During a bus tour of France, she befriends Japanese tourist Miki (Junna Risa) who is in her own way on the same mental journey as Michele, trying to figure out whether it's love she has for the man she's with. Going on further travels together to Morocco and sharing deeper knowledge about each others relationships, Michele realizes that the man Miki is in love with is in fact her own husband Tong (Simon Yam). Anger and disillusionment enters but also forgiveness. The latter doesn't get its chance to be expressed as Miki mysteriously disappears...

Thank god for Jacob Cheung (and a few select others) that infuses Hong Kong cinema with a needed professionalism in their frames and not the feeling of "lookie what we shot in a week and dare call a Hong Kong movie". Cheung, behind terrific 90s efforts such as Cageman and The Kid shot this largely English language drama (with a twist...a big one) abroad, mainly in France and Morocco, giving the late Anita Mui another fine showcase. The language is one hindrance Midnight Fly has as well as suffering from one too many empty emotional beats because of it. Chances are that you won't be thinking of this after the final frame. No, you'll be haunted by the ride Jacob Cheung decides to take us on.

Therefore the genre called thriller should be written after drama and Cheung in a minor way celebrates the famous and infamous Hong Kong cinema tradition of featuring contrasting elements. Breaking it down, beyond the luminous cinematography and methodic style, Cheung gives us a story of great coincidences initially (if you get past this, you're a forgiving viewer). A bond that begins with vomit and develops into a portrayal of Michele and Miki as two tragic characters struck with unresolved issues in their love lives. Potentially, this half of the film should've been a solid homerun and Tang Tsz Chun's script avoids most clichés in the most obvious of ways as well. Cheung is also the director that can splendidly avoid familiarity and instead present atmosphere, dialogue and acting akin to fresh. Elements are there but emotions simply won't lift from the page and reach the viewer despite still being enveloped in Wong Ping Hung's splendid cinematography. The first stepping stone for the drastically different second half is another variation of theme of unresolved emotional issues and boy does Cheung ever go to the extreme in punishing the characters for that misstep. To use a quote a popular reviewer of Hong Kong movies likes; IT ALL GOES TO HELL!

Wong Ping Hung's cinematography during the parts set in France in a way teases us that darkness lies ahead. When Junna Rissa's Miki disappears, a door of unsettling, disturbing atmosphere opens up but Cheung manages to inject some welcome and finally felt subtle emotions as the rollercoaster ride for Michele's character resonates in her unresolved inner turmoil towards Miki (and her husband Tong). No doubt, viewers will find this foray into abuse and violence unnecessary and out of place but as much as it is a comment on how easy it is to fall victim to evil, Cheung builds upon his main theme and reaches a strangely hard hitting poignancy. It's not unlike what Soi Cheang's Love Battlefield did subsequently and Cheung even breaks out of his wonderful hands off style to showcase that he can provide stylish, disgusting horror filmmaking.

Ultimately, this mixture doesn't really elevate the first half as much as you would think as the English dialogue feels stilted in the hands of two otherwise fine performers. It's a valiant effort to open up a non-commercial Hong Kong movie to the international market but despite reaching powerful places, one can't help to think that Midnight Fly could've been drawn close to hugely affecting had it been with actors performing in their native tongue primarily.

Not that the late, great Anita Mui puts in anything but an impressive act here. On the contrary, she's excellent going through the cold ways of Michele to the realization of the strengths she needs to display in order to salvage her own humanity and another human life. The English dialogue works mostly well in Mui's hands, much better than Japanese actress Junna Risa. She definitely feels like an untested performer (main credit being the TV-series Rasen) and threatens to be way too spunky for the material. Just like Cheung's direction reaches a satisfying, unsettling circle, Junna's presence within the story eventually is benefiting as events unfold towards the end. Simon Yam puts in effort and brings his excellent dead calm demeanor to an equally dead calm character, being the voice of reason but also Tong possesses no understanding of any part of the women's journey. Youngster Shaun Tam (July Rhapsody) adds surprisingly good support as the fellow Chinese guiding Michele through thick and thin.

Familiar with Jacob Cheung or not (shame on you!), Midnight Fly is going to surprise and startle a lot of people. Initiated fans will discover that despite a glossy surface, the first act seems devoid of as much affecting material as you would expect. Newcomers may even feel bored listening to slightly stiff English dialogue. However, prepare for the worst time of your life when Jacob launches the events during the second half and here both camps of people should be immersed in a harrowing but satisfying emotional tale. Cheung has done much better but has rarely been this punishing.

The DVD:

Universe's 1.87:1 framed print displays the warm colours of the cinematography well and sharpness registers fair. The print exhibits a slight murkiness and darkness that isn't welcome though. Print damage is kept to a minimum.

The English/Cantonese language track in Dolby Digital 5.1 offers up an enveloping experience, especially when Shigeru Umebayashi's score kicks in. The optional English/Mandarin 5.1 track only retains the English spoken outside of Anita Mui's and Junna Risa's scenes. The rest is all in Mandarin.

English subtitles has a few grammar inaccuracies but are strong nonetheless. All English dialogue is translated which is helpful due to the various heavy accented English throughout. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras include informative Star's Files for Anita Mui and Simon Yam and 2 trailers for Midnight Fly. Previews for Fighting For Love and Heroes In Love are also available.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson