The First 7th Night (2009)

Directed by: Herman Yau
Written by: Herman Yau & Zexin
Lex Tsai
Starring: Gordon Lam, Julian Cheung, Michelle Ye, Eddie Cheung, Fung Hak-On & Tony Ho

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The first of Herman Yau's four movies released during 2009, Hong Kong busiest director may not be rivaling the quality of a frequent cat like Johnnie To but the production rate of Yau's has always been encouraging. There seems to exist a good attitude about things behind that forehead as well. The attitude dealing with the fact every now and again you will suck quite hard. At other times Yau is an interesting, low budget oddity. To boot, with The First 7th Night Yau surely makes it consciously hard to categorize his story and work as a director. Despite carrying the Category III rating and promotional material surely highlighting the dark, ghostly and crime-aura of the film, it's all that done with a firm concentration for the simple and sincere in terms of drama as it turns out. What that means I obviously can't explain in FULL detail but it does mean to me that for once a Herman Yau is more than just slight (just slight meaning competent, something you could respect as a fan of the small Hong Kong cinema). It's in fact one of his sleeper hits that deserves way more of a push.

Cab driver Mapking (Gordon Lam) essentially lives in his taxi, doing everything but washing in there. He also possesses knowledge of more remote places and how to go there, hence his name. It becomes handy when the mysterious Pony (Julian Cheung) requests to be guided to the remote Moon and Sun village. As it's a well paid gig, Mapking takes the fare and as a way of testing each other, getting to know each other, Mapking and Pony start chatting over their respective CB radios on the road. The Moon and Sun village has hit a nerve with Mapking and he starts to relate the story as to why. We're lead into our second movie within the movie in a way as Mapking talks of his poor childhood, his relationship with his mother Fong (Michelle Ye) but more importantly the night and events that lead to her restaurant burning down. As it's used as a safe house for a gang of robbers (Fung Hak-On, Eddie Cheung, Tony Ho), the character played by Cheung makes advances at and rapes Fong. A bad night to do so as it turns out because it is the night when Fong's husband will "return". The first 7th night...

With quite huge filmmaking tricks and beats used (heard in Brother Hung's varied and excellent score as well), Herman Yau has created quite an intriguing mix here that will include heartwarming drama believe it or not. Although tapping into a ghost- and crime plot, the familiar techniques used feels very much less so because of the way Yau leads us through this unknown territory of a story. With a palette lacking much colour and using the setting of the restaurant in a very spooky way, if you know the twist, you also know the amount of clues Yau drops in terms of the mood setter he's acting as. But thankfully even during a first viewing we're involved in the harsh, quickpaced, unpredictable ways Yau thrashes us about the room. Simply put we're never really figuring out the trail we're on before Yau lights it up for us fairly late in the game. We're genuinely surprised and moved when it happens.

The issue of what Julian Cheung's Pony has to do with all this and fully how Gordon Lam's Mapking is connected to the story remains constantly solid, intriguing and even throughout the second version of said restaurant event that plays out before us. Yau's got us and it's definitely not slight, flawed cinema. Performances seem dormant (in the case of Lam's Mapking), overdone (in terms of the itchy, violent robbers) but it's a balanced direction taking place here where much of the cast and their moods plays a crucial part in Yau's final, successful push.

It's from such a hard working individual that knew a thing or two about defying expectations, making satire and a varied genre output even before the likes of The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome. With The First 7th Night he gets a pay off for the effective build and is to be applauded for making a small Hong Kong movie that needed that absolute restricted scope for it's close to heart message.

The DVD:

Video: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0. Former track has a mixture of both Cantonese and Mandarin as intended.¨

Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.

Extras: None.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson