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NIGHT CORRIDOR (Yao Ye Hui Lang)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Sound format: Mono
Now firmly established as a popular figure in both the commercial and art-house sectors of Hong Kong cinema, hot young actor Daniel Wu (BISHONEN, ENTER THE PHOENIX) co-produced this eerie supernatural drama with Stanley Kwan - director of ROUGE (1988) and LAN YU (2001) - which Wu has described in interviews as: "A dark, non-typical Hong Kong story, with a more European feel to it than most". Based on a novel by writer-director Julian Lee, Wu plays Sam, a photographer pursuing a successful career in London, far away from the ghosts of his childhood in HK, where he suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of a 'benign' family priest (Eddy Ko). However, he's forced to return home when his alcoholic mother (Kara Hui) informs him that his twin brother Ah-hung has died following a horrific incident in which he was torn apart by monkeys (talk about creepy!). Beset by grief and confusion, Sam seeks answers from the ageing night porter (Guk Fung) of a local library which his brother used to attend, where he's introduced to Ah-hung's strange girlfriend (mainland model Coco Chiang) whose devotion to Sam isn't as innocent as it first appears. But Sam's return to HK has also rekindled his affections for a childhood friend (Allan Wu), whom Ko accuses of being partly responsible for Ah-hung's death. The mystery continues to deepen...
Filmed in twelve days on a limited budget and photographed with noir-ish intensity by debut cinematographers Wong Chi-ming and Charlie Lam, this multilayered shocker recalls the escalating paranoia suffered by Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), though the Gothic tone and slow-burning tempo of Lee's film owes as much to similarly-styled Asian entries like RING (1998) and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2003). Lee maintains a cohesive narrative structure, despite his fractured editing style and non-linear approach to the material, whilst Wu anchors proceedings with his skillful portrait of a sensitive artist cast adrift in a threatening landscape. Many of the film's themes and images are linked explicitly to the famous painting 'The Nightmare' by 18th-19th century artist Henry Fuseli (that's the one in which a horned demon is sitting astride a sleeping/swooning woman draped across a bed), an image whose relevance only becomes clearer as the movie draws to its enigmatic conclusion, and while the stark location photography evokes an appropriate measure of creeping dread, Lee further unnerves his audience by introducing odd, disconcerting noises into an otherwise benign soundtrack, while half-seen images flicker briefly at the edges of the frame. Though it plays like a character study, the film is intensely cinematic in the usual HK manner, and while the ending is a little abrupt and confusing, events become clearer on subsequent viewings. Like BLOW-UP (1966), this is a movie which refuses to indulge the viewer's expectations...
Daniel Wu is in every scene, and he's hypnotic and beautiful and deeply tragic, all at the same time; tormented by the shadows of an unhappy childhood, and consumed by the darker shadows of an impending catastrophe, he tempers the anguish of his brother's death with the fortitude of a natural survivor. Chiang essays a character not unlike the nightmarish Sadako in the Japanese "Ring" series, an innocent-looking pawn of satanic forces, while Guk's kindly night porter turns out to be harboring more than a few guilty secrets of his own (my lips are sealed). Slow-going, but bewitching and dreamlike in the best possible way, the movie was given a Category III (adults only) rating by HK censors for some frank sexual material, including an extraordinary scene in which Sam sprawls beneath his bedclothes, masturbating langurously over a recent photograph of the young man he once loved and lost (now a hunky radio DJ). Few actors of Wu's standing have ever been so daring in HK cinema.
(Cantonese and English dialogue)
When one grisly morning his phone rings, starving artist Sam Yuen
(Daniel Wu) couldn't have been less prepared. An unrecognizable voice
claims his twin had been severely injured, urging Sam to pack up and
leave London for HK. Feeling obligated, the destitute painter somehow
makes his way back, only to be informed of the twin's unfortunate
demise. As if such grim tidings weren't enough, he finds his alcoholic
mom deranged out of her wits.
Understandably stymied by these events of the macabre, Sam seeks answers, stepping into realms of HP Lovecraftian proportions. Everyone he literally bumps into have some dark secret or other dangling over their heads menacingly, including his former school teacher and priest, a classmate turned radio celebrity and a creepy librarian any idiot could tell would be best avoided.
Disturbing facts pertaining to Sam's twin surface, some through an alleged ex-girlfriend (Coco Chiang) who promptly proceeds to engage the new arrival in startling fornication. It transpires the twin was mauled by feral monkeys at a local zoo, but above all else, conflicting information hints at a severe identity crises as Sam begins to wonder which of the two brothers actually died.
Author-director Julian Lee wanted a Gothic, slightly grotesque atmosphere, shooting for one by incorporating sickly elements such as sexual deviance, paranoid delusions and murder. Sadly for him, the end result resembles more those pseudo-scary HK ghost flicks, albeit a very slick one at that. Despite tons of intellectual contrivances and direct references to Henry Fuseli's blunt imagery in his classic painting The Nightmare, Night Corridor doesn't reach lofty heights as did Seven, Twelve Monkeys and Memento, to name a few possible points of inspiration. However, it probably will work to raise Daniel Wu's career from its current mire following mediocre ho-hum appearances in both Love Undercover films, Naked Weapon and the atrocious Peeping.
Scant few locations and a short runtime probably stand as Night Corridor's main asset, not only constructing a viable ambiance but additionally helping put the simple story within an appropriately brief context. Any longer and the whole caboodle would come crashing down.
Rating: * * *
Unnerving and disorienting story of a man named Sam Yuen who returns to
Hong Kong to see his brother after he put into a coma by an accident.
Arriving home he finds that his brother has died, his mother has
remarried. No one will speak to him directly and the best that he can
get from most people is that he should simply return to London. It
isn't long before Sam realizes that nothing, and no one is who they
appear to be.
This is essentially a European style Gothic film that feels similar to films like, Rosemary's Baby, Angel Heart, Skeleton Key, The Ninth Gate but made in China. Hong Kong feels more like a European city than a jewel of the Orient. Its a disconcerting feel that puts you on edge from the start, and one that only gets worse thanks to the twists and turns of the plot. The plot is labyrinthine in its construction and is designed to drop you, along with Sam, through its twists in such away that you end up doubting who everyone is, even Sam. The film maybe a bit too twisty for its own good, but for the most part it works leaving you praying for the sun light and something happier.
I admire this film a great deal, however I'm not sure to what degree I like it. Certainly its a good film but I wonder if its trying to cover too much territory (perception, pedophilia, repressed homosexuality, identity, horror) in its brief 75 minute running time.I'm not sure it all works, other than as a disorienting ride. (I'm also not sure if the ending works) Worth a look especially if you like mind games over gore or want to see a Hong Kong film that simply doesn't feel like one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is a muddled mish-mash of clichés from recent cinema. There
are some promising ideas in there, but while the director was clearly
aiming to wind up with a hauntingly ambiguous film, what he ended up
with was a confusing mess. Lead actor Daniel Wu does a fair job but
with no central theme it seems as though he doesn't have much to work
with. Furthermore, the movie is largely devoid of scares (although, in
fairness, there are some creepy moments amid the drudgery).
We have the mysterious death of an estranged twin, diabolical librarians, ghostly love interests, identity confusion, death by savage monkeys, oedipal conflict, abusive stepfathers, sublimated homosexuality, and crime gang connections. The only real commonality these elements share seems to be that they cause the protagonist to express a vague sense of confusion and discontent.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect to this film is that despite the brother's death by monkeys being strongly featured on the DVD cover, the act itself is never directly portrayed. Instead, director Julian Lee uses what appears to be stock footage of monkeys - not very scary.
Avoid this one. For an excellent psychological, ambiguous horror tale, check out the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters (2003).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Incidentally, Night Corridor assembles an ensemble of action veterans, probably not intentionally as the movie is anything but a kung-fu flick.
Brought up and educated in the U.S., 6-foot-2, 29-yearold, handsome Daniel Wu is the lead as well as the centre of the story. A genuine martial art expert, Wu made his mark in action flick Purple Storm (1999), but proved that he can really act in Peony Pavilion (2001) which won wild acclaim in the Moscow Festival and best actress for Rie Miyazawa. In NC, he plays an artist recalled from London to Hong Kong by the news of his twin brother's accidental death. What he finds there, in addition to the very grotesque and gory nature of the death, is that his brother has been going around using his identity all these years he was away. So technically it is he that is dead. The fun begins there with he recurring trip to a Gothic looking library in search of the truth.
Playing his mother is Wai Ying-hung, one of the earlier women fighting stars in Hong Kong, probably earlier than Michelle Yeoh. In NC, she plays an alcoholic, hysterical woman with a somewhat dubious relationship with Wu's twin brother. Some reviews suggest that in this movie, she symbolises the witch. Eddy Ko is another veteran kung-fu star, on both the big screen and the tube. In NC, he plays a child-molesting priest and it doesn't take long to figure out his role in this movie. And it was a great delight to see Kuk Fung, who in the 60's and 70's was seen in just about every martial art movie. In NC, he plays the rather harmless looking library caretaker, until suspicious signs begin to show. Fresh looking Coco Chiang plays Wu's deceased twin brother's girl friend but again things are not always what they seem.
The plot is not really that difficult to follow, particularly for those who are used to watching mysteries. Most of the developments (mostly not convoluted enough to be called `twists') did not come as a surprise to me. The final twist may remind you of Polanski's `The Ninth Gate' (1999). And then there are things that are never totally explained, but then this is not something new in movies these days.
From the above, you may have already gathered that the movie is not particularly frightening, nor does it have a particularly brilliant plot. I like it though, not despite these apparent lacking, but because of them. The movie focuses on simple story telling and building up of a Gothic atmosphere, both of which work quite well. It does not pretend to be a profound psychological study but there are interesting elements. The acting is solidly reliable. All told, it represents honest efforts in movie making that shows up in respectable results.
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