One Nite In Mongkok (2004)

Written & directed by: Derek Yee
Producer: Henry Fong
Starring: Daniel Wu, Cecilia Cheung, Alex Fong, Chin Ka-Lok, Ken Wong, Anson Leung & Lam Suet

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Awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2005:
Best Director (Derek Yee)
Best Screenplay (Derek Yee)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2005:
Best Picture
Best Actor (Alex Fong)
Best Actor (Daniel Wu)
Best Actress (Cecilia Cheung)

Best Cinematography (Keung Kwok-Man)
Best Editing (Cheung Ka-Fai)
Best Action Choreography (Chin Ka-Lok)

Best Original Film Score (Peter Kam)
Best Sound Design (Nip Gei-Wing & Chan Tsun-Bong)

Awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2005:
Best Director (Derek Yee)
Film Of Merit

Nominations at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2004:
Best Picture
Best Director (Derek Yee)
Best Cinematography (Keung Kwok-Man)
Best Action Choreography (Chin Ka-Lok)

No matter if Derek Yee takes multiple year long breaks between his directorial gigs or short ones, he'll still remain one of the most reliable profiles the Hong Kong film industry has, despite only 9 directed movies since his debut in 1985 with the bleak masterpiece The Lunatics. Yee turns his face away completely from last year's award winning drama Lost In Time and returns to edgier filmmaking, akin to what we saw in his early films, with One Nite In Mongkok.

A petty conflict between youth-triads Franky (Sam Lee) and Tiger leads to a fatal car crash, with the latter as the casualty. The boss of Tiger, Tim, in a confrontation with Franky's head Carl (the film's producer Henry Fong), not only wipes out Franky but also contacts Liu (Lam Suet) to employ a Mainland killer to take out Carl. The one choosen for that job is Mainlander Lai Fu (Daniel Wu). Through circumstances occurring at the same hotel as his, Lai Fu hooks up with fellow Mainlander Dan Dan (Cecilia Cheung), a prostitute that leads him around Mongkok in search of the actual primary target, his girlfriend Sue, also one that's ended up as a street girl. Catching wind of this plan to take out Carl is the Mongkok stationed police force, led by scarred cop Milo (Alex Fong) and the hunt is therefore on...

Setting his 36-hour narrative right smack in the middle of the busy area of Mongkok, Yee brings us a building piece. A tale of chance and reluctant characters but ones that in Yee's world exist, night after night in Mongkok. This is just one night. There is a difficulty to One Nite In Mongkok, most likely because Yee opts to build all throughout and introduces various small but crucial characteristics and themes which takes their time to fully set in. Having said that, I welcome subtlety and obviously coming from Yee, the production was bound to hold more complexities than your average triad/cops flick.

Describing why One Nite In Mongkok is a building piece, one has to examine structure, one that isn't particularly noteworthy for the genre. It really begins and stands well on its own as a rather straightforward chase-thriller for the longest of time. With the handheld, yet calculated camera style, Derek furthers the portrayal young triads in Hong Kong cinema, and probably does so in a realistic manner, as snotty punks with bad fashion sense but is quick to establish that the actual danger exists among the older triads heads, a point that will ring true later on. It's really Young And Dangerous plus cops but more professional and somber, with thrills in the form of chases amongst the actual people and locations around Mongkok, set against Peter Kam's pounding music cues.

This genre stuff is obviously beneath Yee but he suitably builds on that somber and downtrodden feel, which applies mostly to the cops. Obviously anyone having to engage in a hunt for a Mainland killer, in Mongkok, on Christmas eve, is going to feel a little reluctant approaching the task but there lies a certain aura here that everyone's rather worn out. This exact scenario isn't probably what the police faces every night but one can easily imagine a hopelessness having to deal with this densely populated area night after night despite. Yee definitely is back in some pessimistic trains of thoughts akin to The Lunatics and his opening dialogue between Alex Fong and Chin Ka-Lok is certainly something that speaks to that pessimism.

One gripe that one have to set aside is the lack of larger amounts of character arcs. Because, as with Johnnie To's Breaking News, we only see these people for the 110 minute running time time. This means that One Nite In Mongkok is not a full on character drama but one where characters continue on a path they've already walked on for some time. Some may end that path, some may progress and some may find it that hope and dreams can not really be found, at least not in Hong Kong. The movie brings up the point that that Hong Kong is translated as sweet-scented, which during the course of the movie the outside characters will find out is a bleak, bleak irony.

It's here that a potential danger is splendidly avoided by Yee thanks to careful writing and correct casting. Take for instance Alex Fong's Milo who we clearly see is scarred emotionally. It's shortly explained, much within the flow of the film, that he changed after a death shooting of a suspect and that selected depth to the character still takes on much weight since it heavily concerns itself with the night at hand. Milo has to face his demons and also the subsequent portrayal of the entire band of cops concerns lawlessness. Reason being the avoidance of the bureaucratic hassle but more having to do with letting the younger, still opportunistic rookies to have some sort of path to walk on. Events are random, rarely fair but it's very powerful how Yee manages to handle his arcs in a scattershot way and still come out on top in terms of the character depth for these guys.

For Lai Fu, Daniel Wu's character, the visit to Mongkok surprisingly holds another priority over his assassination task and that is to bring back his only hope, his girlfriend, now prostitute Sue. A savior if you will, his journey is further proof that Yee is pouring out some of his darker thoughts on screen as we know early on that Sue has already fallen victim to the sweet-scented Hong Kong. Yee thinks that little saving can be done tonight and the results are both unflinchingly brutal and heartbreaking. On the acting side of things and in regards to how Yee directs, you could draw a slight parallel to how Sammo Hung made people look when action-directing them. Same can be applied to Yee directing actors as he's shown again and again that there are untapped resources waiting to be brought out. Daniel Wu is not the best example of that even though this is a serviceable performance. First of all, not being an expert on Mandarin or any Chinese for that matter, he doesn't sound much like a Mainlander but Yee has written a calmness and righteousness to Lai Fu that plays better Wu's wooden nature. It also makes the outbursts of violence in his character more believable but on the whole, now a few years after Daniel's breakthrough turn, critically, in Purple Storm, we may have reached the peak of his ability? On the other hand, I'm also willing to give him more time to develop.

One narrative aspect where Yee seems to falter is when concerning himself with Cecilia Cheung's Dan Dan. She is certainly very clear in intent when looking at how Yee has scripted her but there's nothing here that seems interesting enough to go alongside the mentioned Milo and Lai Fu. She's obviously a mirror of Sue for Lai Fu but it strangely ends there in terms of depth. That and coupled with an awkward nature to Cheung's delivery of Mandarin (which is, even though it surely is Cecilia doing it, distractingly post-synced), the film loses something which obviously in intent wanted to be crucial. Sharing billing with Daniel and Cecilia, I'm not confident that Alex Fong will finally be recognized by a larger group of the fan community but his performance is another sign of him building on his already established skills. Skills that most predominantly are that of emoting true dignity and volumes of depth through presence rather than dialogue.

The supporting players also add colour to the mix, in particular the comic relief of the film in the form of Lam Suet, playing the goofy, ill-dressed, Mainland triad (with too many phones) Liu. Chin Ka-Lok (who also supervised the action), playing Brandon, the second in command after Milo and also the role of mentor to a trigger happy rookie cop Ben (Anson Leung), is terrific to have as he has developed a rather good presence, at least for supporting roles since given the opportunity by Yee in Full Throttle.

Derek Yee, much part of a great past Hong Kong cinema, a present Hong Kong cinema and the future of Hong Kong cinema but that word misstep or falter when discussing a movie of his definitely does and should ring of disappointment. The end result that is One Nite In Mongkok is still evidence that it takes a skilled director to get this much depth out of a chase-thriller structure. The film holds thoughts, although bleak ones, and the opening quote about both fate and sin placing you in the midst of bad things will not prepare you, but assure you that you're in for ALMOST consistent quality throughout.

The DVD:

Universe, with new logo and all, presents the film in a anamorphically enhanced 2.31:1 aspect ratio. Aside from a few specks on the print, this is a sharp and detailed presentation.

The Cantonese/Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 track is powerful when letting effects and score kick in during the various chases. Dialogue also sounds clear when it's all about that. A Cantonese/Mandarin DTS 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin dub is also included.

The English subtitles are terrific and helpful throughout, with very few grammar or spelling problems. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

The first disc of this set also includes a Director & Guest audio commentary, with optional Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles only. Enjoy it those who can! Reportedly the track features writer/director Derek Yee, Daniel Wu and one of the stunt coordinators.

The second disc holds more extras (none of which are subtitled in English, except for the trailer) starting with the making of (12 minutes, 53 seconds). Cast & crew interviews, movie clips and very slight behind the scenes footage barely makes this a one-watch for those of us in need of English subtitles.

Next up is a a 27 minute, 47 seconds Deleted Scenes-reel, again with no English subtitles. Optional commentary is also available. Scanning through it, it seems to exist of small extended bits to the black & white opening (here presented in colour), including a longer triad brawl. Furthermore, there's more moments of abuse towards Milo's childhood friend, the informer Kong and Yee takes Dan Dan & Lai Fu to a few more places around Mongkok.

(a look at one of the deleted scenes)

The most apparent valuable added footage sees Milo bumping into his wife with her new man and Liu escaping the clutches of the police. The latter being fun only as an excuse to see more of the wonderful Lam Suet! The extensions are minor and doesn't seem to add much but without the aid of English subtitles, I'm not able to judge that thoroughly obviously. Interesting to note, there is an off-camera speaker cueing Cecilia Cheung's Mandarin dialogue in of the extended scenes.

Midnight Action holds three small featurettes, starting with Principal Photography (1 minute, 57 seconds), showing the requisite opening ceremony and one special feature that can be enjoyed sans subtitles. Promotional Event (7 minutes, 13 seconds) sees cast members Daniel Wu, Alex Fong, Chin Ka-Lok, Anson Leung and Ken Wong on their promotional tour, arriving in style on motorbikes, doing subsequent interviews with a very energetic announcer, hand-print ceremony and topping it off with an autograph session. Gala Premiere (6 minutes, 37 seconds) concerns, low and behold, the premiere! A not very formal one judging by the wear of the cast and the segment rounds off with fans, presumably, talking about their expectations of One Nite In Mongkok. Even without the aid of subtitles, this section is rather unspectacular.

(shots from the Promotional Event and Principal Photography featurettes)

Star's Files on actors Daniel Wu, Cecilia Cheung, Alex Fong and writer/director Derek Yee contains filmographies only. The Photo Gallery (20 stills) has one behind the scenes shot but otherwise are your usual publicity photos. Kudos to Universe for maximizing the size of these by presenting them full-screen. Trailers for One Nite In Mongkok (teaser and theatrical), Enter The Phoenix, Anna In Kung-Fu Land, Protégé De La Rose Noire and Love On The Rocks finishes this release.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson