A Newport release (in Hong Kong) of a Milkyway Image (H.K.) production for New Film City. Produced by Lam Siuming, Wong Lung-wai. Executive producers, Johnnie To, Wai Ka-fai. Executive in charge of production, Chan Chi-kwong.
Directed by Yau Tat-chi. Screenplay, Sze-to Kam-yun, Yau Nai-hoi. Camera (color), Ko Chiu-lam; editor, Chan Chi-wai; music, Wong Ying-wah; production design, Bruce Yu; art direction, So Kwok-ho, Tsui Kwok-keung; martial arts direction, Woo Chi-lung. Reviewed on videodisc, Singapore, Jan. 4, 1998. Running time: 83 MIN.
Tony Lau Ching-wan Sam Tong Leung Chiu-wai Maggie Maggie Shiu Mark Mark Cheng
With: Lung Fong, Lo Hoi-pang, Ching Siu-lung, Fong Kong, Wong Tin-lam.
Though it's by no means an easy ride for general auds, and doesn't hit all its pins cleanly, "The Longest Nite" is at the very least an attention-grabbing movie that puts a new spin on Hong Kong crimers. A kind of existential, dark night of the soul between a sadistic, driven cop and a mysterious stranger in town, both operating in a no man's land between warring triad heads in Macao, the movie has something of the risk-taking spirit that first drove the H.K. New Wave almost 20 years ago. Festival exposure in midnight slots should find this one an appreciative audience.
Starring two of the territory's top male leads, Tony Leung Chiu-wai ("Happy Together") and the prolific Lau Ching-wan (the cop in Ringo Lam's "Full Alert"), pic was produced by well-known helmet Johnnie To's Milkyway Image. Version reviewed here is the original one, praised by local crix, rather than the hastily re-edited cut that deleted some key scenes and added an opening sequence in an attempt to "clarify" the plot. The original's bumps and creases give the movie much of its quirky flavor.
Story unfolds initially through the eyes of Tony (Lau), a bald, unshaven, denim-clad figure shown setting up appointments by phone as he wanders the afternoon streets. At a seedy restaurant, he silently eats while Macao cop Sam (Leung) and his men, on a mission to clear undesirables out of the colony as a gang war brews, cripple a gunman's hand with a beer bottle. Sam then visits a mobster's restaurant where a stool pigeon is being brutally tortured for info about a contract put out by one mob head on another. Sam then learns that a headless corpse, with "107" written on its hand, has been dumped in his apartment. The atmosphere on the lazy streets of Macao is, to say the least, tense.
Tony goes to a nightclub to meet a woman, Maggie (Maggie Shiu), for an as-yet unexplained reason. There, he has a run-in with headstrong Mark (Mark Cheng), son of the man rumored to have put out the contract in a bid to take over the Portuguese territory's gambling scene. When the nightclub owner is later found dead in an alley, supposedly shot by Mark, Sam takes on the responsibility of bringing Mark in, to prevent an all-out gang war. Mark, however, protests his innocence and goes on the run, leaving Sam to find someone to pin the murder on: By pure chance he picks Tony, but soon finds he's taken on more than he bargained for.
That's just the first 30 minutes of a pic whose plot makes 'The Big Sleep" look like a model of clarity. (Like the Hawks movie, it makes less than complete sense even on repeated viewings.) But as the script convolutions mount, and the cop finds himself the hunted rather than the hunter, it's soon abundantly clear that atmosphere rather than totally logical content is the thing here.
Shooting in an edgy, off-center style, heavy on close-ups and nocturnal chiaroscuro, sophomore helmer Yau Tat-chi conjures up a Macao that's very different from the picturesque, faded colonial look generally exploited by H.K filmers. This is a tawdry, almost Mediterranean town ruled by aged mobsters closer to Sicilian Mafioso than the fashion-conscious triads across the water in Kowloon. The sense of claustrophobia, in a tiny territory where everyone knows everyone else, is tangible.
Pic overstates its case in both the music - somewhere between Ennio Morricone, early John Barry and Nino Rota in "Godfather" vein - and an overlong climactic shootout that unsubtly hammers home the personality convergence of the two leads. It's just about kept on course by charismatic down-and-dirty perfs from Lau and Leung (especially the latter, playing down his boyish looks), and a lean script in which character runs alongside plot rather than forcing it to pull into a turnout every now and then. Though the twists and turns demand close audience attention, the yarn is basically no more complicated than a costume martial arts movie - on which, in many respects, this is simply a contempo take gussied up with post-modern psychology.
Tech credits are all up to scratch, especially Ko Chiu-lam's dank, atmospheric lensing and Chan Chiwai's tight cutting. Chinese title literally means "dark flowers," slang for an underworld contract.