Night & Fog (2009)

Produced & Directed by: Ann Hui
Written by: Cheung Ging-Wai
Simon Yam, Zhang Jingchu, Jacqueline Law, Tan En-Mei, Audrey Chan, Ariel Chan, Yim Chau-Wa & Wong Yik-Lam

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2010:
Best Director (Ann Hui)
Best Actor (Simon Yam)
Best Actress (Zhang Jingchu)

I take pride in myself knowing the path or working methods of certain filmmakers. Take Ann Hui here for example who scored big (rightfully so) with The Way We Are in 2008. A quiet, low-key, almost documentary-esque drama about some ordinary lives in the area of Hong Kong called Tin Shui Wai, it was a nice place to be and a compelling group of characters forming a new family and trying to get by we followed. If you follow Hong Kong media, the general nickname of Tin Shui Wai is "City Of Sadness" though and it's been no shortage of reports of the crime rate and social problems. Lawrence Lau couldn't do much with that material in Besieged City so now Ann Hui takes on a dark tale coming out of Tin Shui Wai instead. Detailing the real life murder-suicide in 2004 of a Mainland immigrant (the character of Ling played by Zhang Jingchu from Beast Stalker), her Hong Kong husband Lee Sum (Simon Yam) and their two kids, Ann Hui goes for the jugular again and is willing to let us bleed with the movie. How does this connect to a personal pride then? Knowing Hui, she's a humanitarian and not afraid to showcase what life has to offer, even if it's about the tragic, gory consequences. Backed by Wong Jing's production company yet again (1*), IF Hui's intentions were to mix a tragic tale with deep social commentary, epic fail. If only and rightly focusing on a spiral of events leading to unfair endings, Night & Fog is a rousing success that hits you repeatedly where it hurts.

If taking on the meaning behind the English title, there is fine poignancy and symbolism available. For Ling's life is not night and day, it's night and fog and essentially her only beautiful moments came back on the Mainland, exploring and working hard for her family. Precious few quiet moments are available in Hong Kong and Tin Shui Wai but she savours the ones she can. Ann Hui works with a narrative structure that jumps back and forth in a manner we understand as well as flashing to moments of beauty that are in fact leading up to darkness. It's easy to follow, easy to be affected by and Hui furthermore taps a little (but not in an intrusive manner) into a documentary aspect of the film as we see the various interrogation tapes being shot with the characters in the aftermath of the murders. It's a good, staged device to merely briefly feature, to get us into the real life mind set we need to.

One mind set also apparent on screen is Lee Sum's already developed edge. Possessing frustration and envy, non-events such as Ling wearing a black bra under her shirt at work and the fish not being cooked properly, it all boils down to Lee Sum having had a trigger pulled in him when watching Ling work. He himself is on social security and there's a risk at hand if the government finds out the wife is working. A financial risk but obviously it doesn't excuse the grave abuse he inflicts upon Ling. Before such grave events such as Lee Sum tying Ling up with fishing string before having sex with her and threatening her with a knife shortly thereafter, we witness Hui's distanced eye for the intensely real on display. A thread that is maintained throughout the film even though we get the odd stylish excursion (for instance flashback being done in camera). It's hard to explain but Hui has an uncanny knack for capturing a street vibe and it has to do with being on the street. It's a unique skill and Hui doesn't get up close if she doesn't have to.

As she brings in the angle of social workers and police being unable to provide any protection for Ling and any strength gained comes via a sisterhood in the women's shelter she's takes refuge in (main bond she creates with is with the character of Lily, strongly played by Jacqueline Law), you could argue that there's nothing new or extraordinary about the story. True but they do happen and since I believe Hui isn't as intensely passionate about portraying what the government did wrong, Night & Fong suitably becomes a straight, simple tale. It becomes increasingly tense, touching and real the closer we get to the disturbing climax, especially since we know the outcome. Much having to do with the excellent Zhang Jingchu as emotional anchor. Of course she could run away from her husband but for one, it doesn't work and secondly, she's pushed into a corner and essentially abandoned anyway so she's clearly in a position where she has to take the risk of not returning alive from yet another confrontation with Lee Sum. Simon Yam is scary and intense but needed to dial down the psychotic behaviour a few notches for it to truly be believable. Essentially we get Dr.Lamb-style reactions when he's deep into violent mode, be it internally or externally but there's no doubt Yam clinches a whole lot correctly in the role.

So set your aims ever so slightly lower and remember that Night & Fog is not a top notch social commentary. Ann Hui merely comments on events that are equal to yet another in our world and she's not being shy about that. The movie hurts, touches and a phrase I myself have used before in a review is applicable now as well: "Pray that your world doesn't suck as hard". It makes for a big, tough movie experience in the small, local, real Hong Kong format.

The DVD:

Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1. The original Cantonese options contains a mixture of that and Mandarin.

Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.


* Making Of (14 minutes, 20 second, no English subtitles). Good for some shots from the set of some of the more violent and difficult scenes.

* Filmart trailer and teaser trailer (both subtitled).

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) This is the role I'd like to see Wong Jing be more open about but at least he credited himself this time.