Nightmares In Precinct 7 (2001)

Directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Herman Yau, Simon Lui & Paul Chung
Producer: Raymond Wong
Starring: Andy Hui, Loletta Lee, Simon Lui, Cheung Tat-Ming & Fennie Yuen

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Despite knowing otherwise through films such as From The Queen To The Chief Executive, The Masked Prosecutor and Killing End, it's always a strangely delightful surprise when Herman Yau brings something of decent quality to Hong Kong cinema. Reason having to do with Herman's working habit being that of constant and therefore the ratio of good vs. bad movies do lean towards the latter. For his cop thriller/ghost story Nightmares In Precinct 7, Yau takes the middle road of that explained ratio and gives us punishment and rewards.

A stakeout, led by cop Fong (Andy Hui) ends up in a shootout confrontation, leaving both thieves and cops shot dead. Fong himself sustain a serious headwound and after operation lies in coma for 2 years. When finally regaining consciousness, he has to deal with what he left behind and what's waiting. Namely, a dangerous serial killer case, where nurses are targets, and the dead people he now sees, including the spirit of a friendly psychiatrist (Cheung Tat-Ming). Oscar (Loletta Lee), the nurse who looked after Fong becomes his aid but when the spirits reveal she is likely the next to go at the hands of the serial killer, he has to do everything to aid her...

There exists multiple opportunities to unashamedly incorporate elements from most known horror and thriller efforts from the past few years, most notably the most notable ones, Ring and The Sixth Sense. Yau also chooses when not to make a good movie it seems and in reality, Nightmares In Precinct 7 isn't particularly noteworthy but probably didn't need be as good, on the Herman Yau scale, as it is. Truth of the matter though, this is a shaky ride.

This and Killing End employed much of the same personnel but comparing these two different efforts, not only is the latter a more accomplished movie but had more creativity amongst its low-budget surroundings. Nightmares In Precinct 7 is low-budget as well but sadly lacking much flair that someone like Yau can bring. Yau has rarely let his other occupation as a cinematographer in the business to intrude on his movies in much obvious ways but atmosphere and camerawork is frighteningly stale here. Setting that aside, as for the actual storytelling duty that Yau must perform, his genre mixing gets off to an uneven start. The stakeout, to setup his plot, is reasonably suspenseful and well-shot but caps off with poor action directing that then leads us into the ghost aspect of the film. I can live with a poor start but in actuality, Nightmares In Precinct 7 has an entire poor first half.

Hui's Fong of course has to face his sins after a long coma as well as an extra sense...yes...he sees dead people of course, mostly Cheung Tat-Ming's psychiatrist-spirit who aids him in the quest for the nurse-killer. Yau has all the correct instincts when he moves Fong forward to reacquaint himself with life and the effects his temporary demise has had on his closest ones. It's reasonably understated as he closes the chapter with his ex-girlfriend May (Fennie Yuen) and the colleague of his that she's befriended but his handling reeks more of cheese than heartfelt sadly. It's barely misses the target but makes enough damage and a possible large reason may be Brother Hung's (that's his credit, yes) score that so thoroughly manipulates, it's disgusting. Loletta Lee's character-intro also feels a little disjointed as I would've liked her to be more professional for at least a few minutes of screen time before finally befriending the patient she's looked after so long.

Nightmares In Precinct 7 basically stinks for 45 minutes but picks itself up, aaaaalmost to the Herman Yau degree of decent cinema for the remainder as he manages to tap into the human interest in his main characters. By adding onto the danger surrounding Lee's character, there are feelings of unease and dread here. While the whole life meter aspect (and for that matter the extended antenna explanation in regards to Fong's newly found abilities) sound silly, Yau gets both quirks and suspense out of it while in the end delivering a decent thriller/ghost story. That is until he seriously jolts the viewer with one of the most punishing endings I've seen from Yau. Fate is fate and love is love and THAT is pure cheese if I ever heard it. Despite, in its simple form, somehow he finds a strangely decent poignancy to it all. Not necessarily in the actual happenings during this ending but in its meaning so in actuality, it's that punishment and rewarding that pops up here as well.

If Yau is on dangerous autopilot for most of the proceedings, I'm afraid to say most of the cast is as well. Andy Hui and Loletta Lee manages to present some likable chemistry but Simon Lui, considering his surprising turn in Killing End, sleepwalks his way through this. If anything, this is Cheung Tat-Ming's show, who brings colour and well-placed humour as the ghost sidekick. Lam Suet and William So also appear.

Yes, Herman Yau does manage to slowly crawl into surprisingly decent after many failed directorial aspects along the way, the first half basically. But bear in mind, he does manage to rank slightly higher than the copious amounts of other The Sixth Sense and Ring rip-off's that have come out of Hong Kong cinema. That should be considered a good thing when talking Herman Yau and Nightmares In Precinct 7 is a slight honorable mention in his filmography but still a few notches behind his other 2001 effort with the same team, Killing End.

The DVD:

Modern claims full screen on the back dvd cover, and incorrect running time, but thankfully this is a 1.76:1 framed presentation. It probably barely beats the vcd for quality though as there lies a smeary and murky look over the film. Darker scenes lack even more detail because of it even though detail was never very good to begin with. Print is relatively clean however.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 Cantonese track stays in the center throughout which is a bit of a shame as these types of films need at least stereo for the atmosphere. It does sound fairly clear in either case. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.

Subtitles are the burned in English/Chinese ones as this is derived from the cinema print. Spelling and grammar is generally very good sans for some errors in wording. No extras are included.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson